Long time no blog post, huh?
I would love to say that this is because I have been hard at work on the follow up to Saving the Dragon, but I’m not one for lying to my readers or myself. The truth is that life, as it has a way of doing, has been interfering with me on a fairly consistent basis since Saving’s release in April. I am happy to report that I have moved back to my hometown. There is little regret in moving out of Cleveland proper except perhaps that my commute is at least 10x longer
Now on the eve of (finally) moving my refrigerator into the new place I finally have the time to sit down and revisit the beginnings of the sequel to Saving the Dragon. The tentative title is “Courting the Dragon”, although I think leaving it as such may be a bit of a misnomer.
Please note that this preview is raw. It is unedited and subject to heavy revision as work on the story progresses. Please do not inundate me with remarks on grammar or spelling. Again, this is undedited.
I also wish to remind everyone that is my work and it belongs to me. No one else. You do not have the write to copy, use, abuse, or pass off my work as your own. You may of course share the link back to this blog post as many times as you like 😉
Now, without further ado, here is the “sneak peak” of Courting that this blog post title promises.
Penelope stood in front of her father’s desk, hands clasped in front of her skirts, watching the emotions play across King Hulbyrd’s face as he reread the letter from the Academy of Mages. The letter, written by the Dean of Students, was a commendation for superior academic performance. Several more letters rested on the king’s desk. One was from the Head Librarian, thanking Penelope for her volunteer time. Another was also from the Dean of Students asking Penelope if she would mind taking a teaching role the following semester at the grammar school the Academy ran for mages’ children and orphans. Penelope had brought the letters with her during her visit home to Saleria during the summer recess. Despite attending the Academy for a over a year Penelope was still leery of her father’s change of heart and felt the need to continually prove herself. It had taken using magic to trick an evil witch into jumping off a cliff to convince her father that she belonged at the Academy in the first place.
Finally, Hulbyrd sat the letter down. He removed his reading glasses and sat them atop the folded parchment. Penelope fidgeted with the ring on her right hand as she watched her father pinch the bridge of his nose, an action she usually associated with his frustration with her. She twisted the ring. Like her attendance at the Academy the ring was an elephant in the room. Salarath, a dragon-wizard usually known as Stellan or Stefan to most of the humans around him, had given it to her several months ago. It was actually a replacement for the original ring, which she’d lost in the evil-witch-cliff-jumping incident. The ring had very special properties. Like its predecessor, the ring could be used to travel between the wizard’s study in Steelbourgh Castle and Penelope’s room in the Salerian palace. Unlike the original ring this one could also be used to reach her room at the Academy of Mages.
“It seems you’ve become quite accomplished.”
“And you won’t considering staying home permanently?”
“I have responsibilities at the Academy, Father.” She smiled. “But I will be home for Tiffany’s wedding.”
Tiffany, Penelope’s former maid, was engaged to be married to Sir Eric, a former city guard whom Penelope had convinced Hulbyrd to knight following the evil witch incident. With his new status and property Eric had finally felt comfortable pursuing Tiffany, who he insisted deserved better than what a mere city guard could provide. The two of them were quite in love and Penelope couldn’t be happier for them. Unfortunately, Eric and Tiffany’s happiness seemed to underscore the problems in Penelope’s own relationship. Even Michael and his arranged fiancee were beginning to grate on her just a bit. The two of them had gotten very close in the last year and were considering moving up their wedding date, which their parents had set out sometime in the next three years or so. Michael had told Penelope, in a rather conspiratorial tone, that they were considering eloping. Since the marriage was already approved they weren’t too worried about any political fallout. Besides, Michael had said, they’d be able to avoid the circus that always came with royal weddings.
“Yes, the wedding you insisted on paying for, as I recall.”
“Come now, Father. It will be a lovely wedding.”
“Speaking of weddings, Penelope, there is something I want to discuss with you while you’re home for the break.”
“What is it, Father?” She didn’t expect for a second that he was about to give his blessing on her marrying Salarath. Hulbyrd was now fully aware of Stellan and Stefan’s true identity and he had made it abundantly clear what he thought of the dragon-wizard. None of what he thought was any good despite their long acquaintance.
“I think it is high time that you were betrothed.” He held up a hand to forestall any argument. “Not married yet, necessarily. I know you have your studies at the Academy to think of, but there’s no reason we can’t get you situated with a nice young nobleman. A nice young nobleman.”
There was a long, pregnant silence as father and daughter stared at each other.
“Did you have someone in mind, Father?”
“There are a few young men that I think would be suitable. I have taken the liberty of inviting them for the summer festivities.”
“I expect you to treat all of them with courtesy. At the end of the festival I also expect you to have it narrowed down to one or two suitors.”
“With all due respect, Father. I don’t need a festival full of young men to pick a suitor. You know how I feel about Stefan.”
“Stefan is not an option for you future, Penelope. Surely you understand that?”
A memory of the one and only time Penelope and Salarath had ever discussed marriage surfaced in her mind. He had made it perfectly clear at the time that while he loved her their relationship would eventually have to come to an end. Penelope shoved the memory ruthlessly back down under the water-level of her thoughts. Hopefully it would stay there, maybe even drown and never bother her again. They had never discussed the future again after Malinda. Their relationship had strengthened and grown in the wake of the witch’s attack and Penelope hoped the outcome of such a discussion would be different this time.
“I understand no such thing.”
“Penelope, please be reasonable. He’s not even human.”
“Part of him is.”
“Is part of him enough? Penelope, you need a man. One who will marry you and take care of you and give you children. Don’t you want any of those things?”
“Of course I do, Father. I just…” She could feel her face flushing scarlet and inwardly cursed herself. “I just don’t want them with anyone else.”
Hulbyrd pinched the bridge of his nose again.
“Oh, Penelope,” he said softly, lowering his hand so he could look her in the eyes. “I know you think you love him. But my dear, the human heart is often a fickle thing. I truly believe if you give these young men a chance you might find that one of them sways you.”
Never, she vowed silently. Her heart was not fickle.
“Please just give them a chance, Penelope.” He frowned when she shook her head ever so slightly. His face darkened. “If you do not choose a suitor before your return to the Academy I might well have to reconsider whether or not going to school is the best thing for you. Who knows what nonsense they are filling you heard with. I will not have my daughter shirking her duties because some harpy teacher is preaching rebellion.”
“Don’t you ‘Father’ me young lady. You think I’m not aware of what goes on at the Academy? That I am not aware of it being a hot-bed for the nonsensical teachings of women’s individualists? I’ll not have it. Do you hear me? Your days of willful disobedience are over. Have I made myself clear?”
She curtsied, and he gave her a dismissive wave. As she left the study Penelope snuck a glance back over her shoulder at the king who was now resting his head in his hands, muttering to himself. She watched as he rose, her letters clutched in his hands, and moved towards the fire. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she turned away, her steps quickening.
When she reached her rooms Penelope snapped an order at a passing servant to see that she was not disturbed and slammed the door to her sitting room shut behind her. She tore quickly through that room and into her bedchamber. For several seconds she stood in the doorway facing her bed just willing her breathing and heart-rate to slow. She needed to calm down before she could perform any magic. Closing her eyes she breathed deeply, in and out. Once she was sure her rage wouldn’t be a factor she turned around. The strange words of the dragon-language rolled off her tongue as muttered her ring’s activation phrase.
Instead of stepping into her sitting room Penelope stepped into a richly appointed study. Although it was summer a fire crackled merrily in the hearth. Located in the mountains, Steelbourgh Castle remained somewhat cool and drafty well into the summer. The big, ornate desk in the center of the room was covered in parchment and books as always, but the seat behind it was empty. Penelope was just about to turn and sweep from the room when a noise drew her attention back to the hearth. An arm dangled over the arm of one of the plush wingbacks by the fire, a book hanging precariously from the tips of its fingers. All the anger and pain in Penelope’s heart melted. She moved quietly across the room, slipping the book from the mage’s grasp as she rounded his chair.
Salarath was sprawled in the chair, his long legs stretched out before him. His elegant robes were rumpled and his dark hair was in a state of disarray. A shadow of stubble shaded his strong jaw. Long, dark eyelashes fluttered against his cheek. He looked so amazingly young and vulnerable in his sleep that was nearly impossible to believe he was really a dragon-hybrid with hundreds of years under his belt. Penelope watched him for several long moments, torn about waking him, until she saw the corner of his mouth turn up just a tiny bit. Shaking her head and fighting back a smile, Penelope leaned over and pressed a kiss to his lips. A strong hand came up to tangle in her hair and hold her head in place as the wizard deepened the kiss. When they parted Penelope found herself staring into a pair of eyes the color of molten silver.
“How long were you awake?”
“How long were you standing there?”
She laughed and kissed him again. It was several minutes before either of them had the free lips to speak again.
“To what do I owe this pleasant surprise?”
“Can’t a woman with magical means visit the man she loves?”
“Yes, but this particular woman is supposed to be visiting with her father.”
When she groaned Salarath sat up and pulled her down into the chair with him, tucking her head into the crook of his shoulder.
“That bad, was it?”
Penelope realized her heart was hammering with fear. If she told Salarath about the fight with her father she’d find out if his opinion on marriage had changed. She was afraid it hadn’t and terrified their relationship wouldn’t survive the discussion in light of her father’s demands.
“He wasn’t very impressed with the Academy’s commendations.”
Salarath’s arms tightened around her briefly, a small squeeze of understanding. She waited for him to say something, but when he remained silent she knew he expected there was more to the story.
“He says if my willful disobedience continues he’ll have to ‘re-evaluate’ if attending the Academy is the right thing for me. Then he ranted something about women’s individualists teaching at the school.”
“You’re mother was the biggest women’s individualist I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I always thought that was one of the things your father loved about her. She was never afraid to speak her mind about anything. When he was being a horse’s ass she let him know it. You know she ruled her own holdings for several years before she met your father.”
“Indeed. Lady Meredith’s father passed when she was fifteen. Her mother followed him to the grave two years later. Your mother was lady of the estate at seventeen. She managed the manor well, better than her father in fact. Her estate is part of your dower, unless I am mistaken.”
“Not anymore. I gave the land to Eric.”
“Ah. I was wondering what holding you’d convinced your father to part with.”
“It was mine to give. I’m sure Father will come up with something else to give to whatever pompous dandy he picks for my husband.”
“I get the feeling there’s something you’re dancing around. What does Hulbyrd think you’re being ‘willfully disobedient’ about?”
Penelope knew she was squirming, but the gentle circle of Salarath’s arms prevented her from jumping up. She had the sneaking suspicion he could hear her pounding heart. Not for the first time she made a mental note to ask about dragon senses at a more opportune moment.
“Father wants me to get engaged.” The crackle of the fire filled the silence for several long moments before Penelope added “before the new term begins.”
“He’s invited some suitors to the summer festival in Saleria. He wants me to give them a chance. He thinks… he thinks you aren’t an option for my future.”
She didn’t dare pull away to look up at him and she didn’t need to. Penelope could feel the tension in the muscles of his arms, hear it in his breathing.
“I know we talked about this and…”
Salarath shifted, sitting up more and grasping her shoulders to hold her out so they could look at each other. His gray eyes had darkened to the color of cold iron.
“We knew this time would come.”
“No,” she whispered, tears leaking from her eyes. Her tone rose, approaching hysteria. “No, no, it hasn’t. I won’t do it. I won’t. He can pull me out of the Academy. I don’t care.”
A low, rattling sort of rumble rose from deep within the wizard’s chest. The princess cut off her pleading, staring wide-eyed. She’d only ever heard such a sound from Salarath while in his dragon form in the dungeon. It had been so easy until now, she realized, to separate that experience out from their everyday relationship. It was so easy to forget he was more than a man.
“Penelope, you have a bright future ahead of you.” Salarath’s voice was hoarse, but his eyes practically glowed as they bored into her. “You will graduate from the Academy. You’ll marry a wonderful man who … Penelope listen to me.”
She shook her head.
“No, listen to me. You’ll marry a wonderful man who’ll love you more than life itself. You’ll be happy. Happier than I could ever make you.”
“That’s not true!” Penelope was sobbing now, her blue eyes now painfully red and puffy as the tears streamed down her cheeks. “It’s not!”
Salarath’s jaw tightened. Penelope’s pain hit him like a knife to the heart, but he forced himself to keep looking her in the eye. This was for the best, even if the grief killed him. He forced his expression to harden. He glared at her, his gaze steely. He lifted her gently, but firmly, setting her on her feet as he stood.
“Go home, Penelope.” The command was accompanied by a shove towards the door. He had to get her out of here before he lost his nerve. “Don’t come here again.”
“Go!” The word came out as a roar — the angry, wounded roar of a dragon.
Penelope’s heart froze with fear and she shrank away from him. They stared at each other for a moment longer. Salarath’s heart broke all over again at the fear he saw in her beautiful eyes. Finally, the princess bolted. The words to her ring came out of her lips in a rush and she was gone.
The wizard stood there for he knew not how long, staring at the empty space where his love had vanished. His eyes slowly filled with tears until he couldn’t see the doorway anymore. It was several long moments and deep breaths before he could begin his incantation.