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About A Dragon
By G.A. AIKEN
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Chapter One "Come with me," he ordered.
Big brown eyes slowly looked up at him in surprise. Then she muttered, almost to herself, "Good gods, the trees have started moving on their own."
"Nothing. Just referring to your rather ... unholy size."
He glanced down at his human body. He actually found it small, almost puny ... like most humans. And he found her downright tiny.
Shaking his head, he decided to figure all that out later.
"Come with me." He smiled. "I desire to have you."
How could he not? She was beautiful. Clearly from Alsandair, her soft brown skin told him of many ancestors living under the hot desert suns. Her hair, though, was darker than the few desert people he'd seen over his long lifetime. Almost black and a riot of soft, silky curls, reaching down her back and swaying against what he considered an amazing ass.
"That's ... uh ... charming. But I'm almost positive my husband would have a problem with that." She tried to walk around him, but he stepped in front of her.
"The slow-witted one that's been following you? I thought he was your servant."
She snorted, then quickly looked down at the ground. Covering her mouth with one small hand, she remained silent for several seconds. Finally, she focused on him again, but he could see the laughter in her eyes. "Yes. That's the one. But he is my husband. Not my servant. Although some days ..." He expected her to be insulted for her mate. She wasn't. Good. It gave him hope.
"Well, you deserve better than that. You deserve me. So come with me."
Her smile was slow in coming, but once it turned into a full grin, he thought his weak human knees would give out. He'd never seen anything so beautiful before.
"My, my. That's a lot of arrogance you have in that very large body. How do you fit your head through doors?"
"I'm arrogant because I know I can offer you more than that rodent? Is that arrogance or honesty?"
She shook her head. "Who are you?"
"Come with me and find out."
"No. No. I'll not be traipsing off with any strange knights this day. Although I appreciate the offer."
She walked around him, muttering to herself, "I'll have to write this day down in my diary."
He could let her go. Any other human female he would have. But he found her absolutely fascinating. Maybe it was the way she snarled at the baker who initially refused to serve her. She'd been getting similar treatment all over the market. They all seemed to fear her, but he wasn't sure why. Magick surrounded her, but it was untapped-almost stagnant. Something a typical human peasant would never know or see. Nor was she marked as a witch like his sister and so many other females with power. Nothing marred that beautiful face. So why they all seemed to hate her, he had no idea.
She stopped and turned to face him. "Yes?"
"You're not safe here."
"Well, that's a new approach."
"I'm not joking. Do you not see it?" He glanced around at the vendors watching them. "They despise you. They fear you."
He knew fear like that. He saw it every time he flew over a town or spotted a battalion too close to his territory. To be quite honest ... he loved that fear.
Her smile faded and she pulled the worn cloak she'd recently put on tighter around her. She deserved better than those ugly clothes. She deserved the finest silks and wool to drape that body.
"You think I don't already know that? You think you're telling me something new and shocking?"
"Then why do you stay?"
He saw it. In her eyes. A deep weariness, coupled with fear. "Because I have no choice."
"You always have a choice."
"Perhaps knights such as yourself do. But I am not that lucky."
The one she called husband walked out of the local tavern and glared at the pair of them. "Come on," he barked at her.
"Aye," she called back. She looked at Briec and smiled. "I've enjoyed our conversation, knight. It's been nice talking to someone who can-"
"Create full and complete sentences?"
That grin returned and, for a moment, his heart actually stopped beating. "No. It was nice to finally meet someone whose arrogance is only rivaled by the arrogance of the gods. Now, if you'll excuse me"-she leaned in and whispered good-naturedly-"my servant awaits."
She winked at him and walked away. And he knew right then it didn't matter who she bound herself to, he'd have her ... at least until he was done with her.
* * *
She placed the food in front of her husband, and turned to walk away. But he grabbed hold of her wrist and dragged her to his lap. She didn't fight him. She knew she didn't have to.
His lips touched her neck and she forced the repulsion back. She decided to think about other things to distract her and immediately, strange violet eyes came to mind. She didn't know they'd built men that size in these insignificant little Northern towns. For sixteen years she'd lived here and it seemed like any man taller than her left the village to become a soldier or a castle guard. The remainder were not very tall nor very handsome.
Ah, but that knight ... by the gods, he was absolutely magnificent. Covered from head to toe in that expensive black cape, all she could see were those beautiful violet eyes and that face. Gods, that face!
Outrageously arrogant, too. But it amused her. Mostly because she didn't have to live with that every day. If she did, she might kill him in his sleep-once she was done with him, of course.
Still, she should have never spoken to him. Strangers didn't come through this little village often and it had gotten worse in the last three years. Even with one of the main travel roads cutting close by, less than a day's foot travel away, the traders and travelers who once came often, came no more.
Those in the village recently started to blame her for the lack of outsider gold. Of course, lately they'd been blaming her for everything. A cow died ... her fault. A child caught the brain fever ... her fault. One of the village women twisted an ankle ...
Apparently everything was her fault. My, she never knew she had such awesome powers.
Aye, their lack of kindness made speaking to the strange knight from parts unknown easy, but a dangerous chance to take. He would feel no need to protect her or respect the bonds of her marriage bed. Yet, she simply couldn't help herself. He'd been so outrageously ridiculous he made her smile. And, the gods knew, she didn't smile often.
She doubted she'd see him again, but he would be a nice memory to hold on to.
Finally, her husband pushed her away with an angry snarl.
"Evil bitch, what have you done to me?"
She strained herself trying not to sigh in annoyance. This conversation had become tiresome ten years ago, now it neared intolerable.
"I know not of what you speak, husband."
He stood, knocking the chair over in the process. "Lying bitch! You've hexed me or something! I get near you and ..." He gritted his teeth and glanced down at his groin.
"I don't understand, husband." She barely reined in her sarcasm. Barely. "From what I understand many of the ladies have been lucky enough to find out what a steed you are in bed. I assumed you'd merely tired of me."
Then he was there, his hand raised. She didn't flinch, which is what he wanted. But she knew he'd never follow through. He'd only hit her once and quickly learned never to do it again. Of course, since then, he'd looked at her like a demon incarnate.
Just like now.
Unwilling to take the risk, he turned over the dining table and stormed out into the night. Tomorrow, he'd return with muttered apologies and it would all start once more in a month or two.
For sixteen years this had been her life and it would continue to be her life until told otherwise.
With a sigh, she righted the table, cleaned up the mess, ate a little of her own dinner-without the herbs she'd put in her husband's meal-cleaned the grime of the day off her body, put on her white nightdress-after securing the dagger tied to her thigh-and finally crawled into bed.
As she drifted to sleep she thought of violet eyes and arrogant men in chainmail.
Chapter Two They dragged her from bed before the two suns even rose over the Caffyn Mountains. She fought as best she could, but the noose they'd wrapped around her throat cut off her ability to breathe, weakening her. And they bound her hands tightly with coarse rope because they feared she'd cast a spell on them. She had none to cast, but what really annoyed her was her inability to get the dagger still tied to her thigh.
Of course, only she would get an entire town to try and kill her. Nice one, idiot.
Strong men threw the end of the rope over a sturdy branch and slowly pulled her off her feet. They didn't want her to die too quickly. They wanted to watch her hang for awhile, and it looked like they'd prepared a pyre for a good, old-fashioned witch burning.
The man she called husband screamed at her. He screamed how she was a witch. How she was evil. How they all knew the truth about her and now she would pay. If she weren't fighting for her life, she'd roll her eyes in annoyance.
But what truly galled her ... what set her teeth absolutely on edge-other than choking to death-was that the goddess who sent her here all those years ago was the same one leaving her to die.
She thought the evil bitch would at least protect her until she finally accomplished what she needed her to do. What she'd been training to do since she was sixteen.
But Talaith, Daughter of Haldane, had learned long ago that no one was to be trusted. No one would ever protect her. No one would ever do anything but use her. Eventually she'd learned to trust no one but herself.
Of course a few allies might have helped you this day, Talaith.
She coughed and squirmed in her bonds, praying her neck would finally just break. She would definitely rather not die by burning. Talaith never considered flame a witch's best friend.
As she wondered what it would take to snap her neck using her own body weight, she saw him.
He stood out like a jewel among pigs. Her arrogant, handsome knight, still in his chainmail with the bright red surcoat over it, but without the black cape he wore that shielded part of his face and hair from her sight. She wasn't sure if it were her imagination or if her impending death had made her sight untrustworthy, but he had-silver?-yes. He had glossy silver hair that reached past his knees. But it wasn't the silver hair of an old man. This beauty couldn't be more than thirty winters. At most.
Gods, and he was a beauty. The most beautiful thing Talaith had ever seen. Well, at least she'd leave this world with something pretty for her last vision.
He walked up to one of the townsfolk and motioned toward her.
"She is a witch, m'lord!" a woman-whose child Talaith saved from a poisonous snakebite the year before-screamed. "She's in league with demons and the dark gods."
She wished. At least the dark gods protected their own.
The knight stared at her for several moments. If she could, she wouldn't have been too proud to beg for mercy. But, even if she could speak, she wouldn't bother. Those cold violet eyes of his told her it would have done no good anyway.
If only you'd fucked him like you wanted to, he might feel slightly obligated to help you. But you had to be a hard bitch.
Of course, according to her husband, she was always a hard bitch.
With a bored sigh, her knight turned and walked away, disappearing into the surrounding woods.
Typical. Even a brave knight wouldn't help her. Every day her life grew more and more pathetic.
"Die, witch! Die!" How lovely. Her own "dear" husband started up that endearing chant. The bastard. She'd meet him on the other side when his time came and she'd make sure he suffered for eternity.
The noose tightened a bit and she felt more of her life slip away while they continued to pile extra wood around the stake.
Funny how one's mind plays tricks when so close to dying.
For instance, if she didn't know better, she'd swear that was a giant silver dragon ambling out of the forest. An enormous, amazing creature, with a silver mane of hair that gleamed in the morning sunshine and nearly swept the shaking ground at its feet. Two massive white horns sat atop its head and a long tail, with what looked to be a dagger-sharp tip, swung lazily behind him.
Silently, he stood behind the townspeople. So focused on her, they were completely unaware of his presence. Who knew I could be so fascinating as to distract an entire town? Of course, they could also be ignoring the dragon because it was simply a figment of her imagination. A dream of a grand rescue that would never come.
Her fantasy dragon leaned forward and nudged Julius the baker with the tip of his snout. Julius glanced behind him, nodded and turned back to her. Then he froze where he stood ... just before he pissed himself. That's when his wife glanced at him and behind him. She screamed, grabbed her son, who had been seconds away from throwing a rather large rock at Talaith, and ran. Soon after, the rest of the townsfolk caught sight of her fantasy dragon, screamed and bolted away.
She frowned. Perhaps she still had enough of her power so she could conjure the image of the beast, but somehow she doubted it.
The dragon shot out a few flames at the retreating humans, but nothing to do any real harm. Finally, it stared at her for several moments, turned and walked off.
Unbelievable. Even my rescue fantasies are disasters.
But as she wondered if her afterlife would be as pathetic as her current life, the dragon's tail whipped out. The tip cut through the rope that hung her from the tree, and she dropped.
Expecting her ass to hit the unforgiving ground at any moment, she tensed in surprise as the tail wrapped itself around her body and held her.
Now that the noose was not so tight, her senses slowly came back to her. That's when she realized a tail really did have her. A tail attached to an enormous dragon casually walking through the forest. She tried to move out of its grasp, but the tail pinned her arms-with her still bound wrists-against her body. And her noose still tight enough she couldn't call for help.
Of course, who would she call? Her husband? Probably not. Lord Hamish, ruler of these lands? If she had the strength, she would have laughed at that.
No. It looked as if she was going to be the breakfast of a monster.
As the dragon made it into a clearing and suddenly took to the air-with her still wrapped up in its tail-Talaith had only one thought ...
Briec the Mighty, second oldest in the House of Gwalchmai fab Gwyar, second in line to the throne of the White Dragon Queen, Shield Hero of the Dragon Wars, Lord Defender of the Dragon Queen's Throne and, as far as he was concerned, the only sane one of his kin, headed to a nice, quiet spot. Some place by water would be nice. It would be at least two days before he made it back to his den, but he wanted to take a good look at his prize. Preferably without the puffiness that comes with being hung from a noose.
True, his sister awaited the information he had about Lord Hamish, which wasn't much. But when he decided to stay in the village, he'd passed the minute bit of information on to one of the Garbhán Isle soldiers waiting outside Madron lands. As it was, Briec couldn't believe he'd run an "errand." For his brother's bitch, no less. She'd actually sent him to find out if Hamish was preparing to make a move on Garbhán Isle. From what Briec could tell, Hamish wasn't planning anything. Still, he was Briec the Mighty sent to do this menial task. Really he should have killed the woman when he had the chance. But his brother Fearghus seemed so fond of her. Although for the life of him he couldn't understand why.
Excerpted from About A Dragon by G.A. AIKEN Copyright © 2006 by Shelly Laurenston. Excerpted by permission.
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