Addolgar the Cheerful wishes he could say he’s helping the pretty royal strictly for honorable reasons—but he’d be lying. It’s not his fault, though! He didn’t tell Braith of the Darkness to have the most delicious tail he’s ever seen! Yet before Addolgar can get his very strong claws on that tail, heads are going to roll. Just hopefully not theirs…
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A Tale of Two Dragons
By G.A. AIKEN
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 G.A. Aiken
All rights reserved.
"Oy! Addolgar!" they yelled into his human face. "Oyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! You awake?"
Idiots. Every one of his brothers and sisters were utter idiots. Even these two — Ghleanna, his older sister; and Bercelak, his younger brother — who he believed to be the smartest of his kin, were still ... idiots.
"Maybe he's dead then," Bercelak suggested.
"Nah. I think he's breathing. He just sleeps like the dead, is all."
An elbow, probably Ghleanna's, rammed across his jaw. "Addolgar!" she screamed. "You awake?"
His jaw throbbing, Addolgar knew he couldn't keep ignoring his siblings or he risked losing part of his face.
He slowly opened his eyes. "What?"
"See?" Ghleanna said to Bercelak. "He's not dead."
"Such a relief. Mum would have had a fit if he'd turned up dead."
"Your concern overwhelms me, brother." Addolgar cracked his neck. "So what do you want?"
His brother and sister, also in their human forms, stood tall, hands on hips, staring down at him. The two of them looked the most alike of their siblings. Black hair, black eyes, rude natures. Bercelak had the nastiest attitude, but really he was only the most focused. He had big plans. He didn't just want to be a warrior; he wanted to lead the Queen's Army. It was a lofty goal, especially for one of the low-born Cadwaladr Clan, but if any of them could do it, it would be Bercelak.
Ghleanna was more like Addolgar. They battled because they liked it and were good at it. They loved the armor, the weapons, the blood, the death. When the Queen had no wars, Addolgar and Ghleanna found human wars to fight. They were always fun and good training.
But still, could Addolgar not get a few minutes to himself? He'd just wanted to have a meal and get a little nap before heading back to the human troops he'd been fighting with. As always, though, with his kin ... that apparently wasn't possible.
"Why are you two bothering me?"
"Her Majesty," Ghleanna sneered, "wants to see us."
Addolgar smirked. His sister didn't even bother trying to hide her dislike of the current monarch, Dragon Queen Addiena. She'd taken over for her mother, the much-loved Queen Ganieda, nearly a century ago, and Ghleanna still barely accepted Addiena as their ruler. True, she'd protect her as the monarch of their people, but that was as far as Ghleanna the Black was willing to go.
Curious as to what was going on, Addolgar asked, "She wants to see us for what?"
"You don't question," Bercelak snapped. "You come when called."
"When did we become pets?" Addolgar asked his brother. Ghleanna snorted.
"Don't anger me, brother. We serve the Queen — without question, without delay. Now get off your fat ass and let's get going."
Knowing quite well that his ass was perfect, Addolgar was getting ready to argue, for no other reason than to annoy his brother, when Ghleanna cleared her throat and motioned behind her. A group of humans were running toward them, all of them poorly armed with pitchforks and rusty swords and pikes.
"I'll handle —" Bercelak began, but Ghleanna quickly stepped in front of him.
"No," she told him. "You'll keep your mouth shut."
The humans quickly crossed the open field until they reached them, the one out front stopping in front of Ghleanna. "Did ya see him, soldier?" he demanded. "Did ya see the dragon?"
Ghleanna nodded. "We have troops searching for the bastard now. We'll find him. And we'll kill him."
"He destroyed my cattle!" one of the men yelled. "Look at this!"
They did. All those bones, sucked clean of meat, fat, and marrow. It wasn't the entire herd that Addolgar had eaten but at least half. He'd been hungry, though. Very hungry.
"That bastard," Ghleanna snarled. "We'll wipe the land of him, I promise you that."
The humans looked at Addolgar. "What's wrong with him then?" the leader asked.
"He ... was attacked by that dragon." Ghleanna nodded at Addolgar.
With a sigh and a barely suppressed eye roll, Addolgar raised his arm and weakly stated, "Don't mind me. I'm just slowly bleeding to death from the attack." All that cow's blood smeared over his human flesh helped with that lie. Of course, he'd been dragon when the blood had splattered, the human herder running off, screaming hysterically and pissing himself. And after Addolgar had finished eating, he'd shifted to human so he could relax with his back against a sturdy tree and his long human legs stretched out in front of him.
One of the humans studied Addolgar and asked, "Why's he naked?"
The three of them blinked and then Bercelak lied, "Because it'll be easier to carry his dead body back to the troops with no armor."
"Won't he need his armor for the funeral?" asked another curious human.
Addolgar and Ghleanna looked at Bercelak, waiting to see what their younger brother would come up with next.
"Uh ... yes. You're right, of course. Um ... but we all hated him. So we're stripping him of any honor at his death."
"But he's still alive," said a horrified woman.
That's when Addolgar bit the inside of his mouth to prevent the laughter threatening to come out; Ghleanna, always short on patience, had had enough.
"Here," Ghleanna said to the humans. "Take this." She held out her hand to Bercelak. He glanced at her open hand and back at her face.
Ghleanna tilted her head the tiniest bit, and Addolgar read that move for exactly what it was. A threat.
Growling a bit, Bercelak ripped the coin pouch he had tied to his sword belt off and handed it to Ghleanna. She, in turn, handed it over to the humans. "For your cattle."
"You'll take care of the dragon, though, yeah?"
"Our troops are moving on him as we speak. Have no fear. He'll not be back."
"Lizards," the human spit out. "Hate them all."
With that, the humans turned around and headed back to their homes.
"I should have eaten them," Bercelak sneered.
"What is wrong with you?" Ghleanna demanded.
"They made me angry." He paused a moment, then admitted, "And they smell really good. I'm so hungry."
Addolgar pointed to a nearby meadow. "There's more cows over there. And I could eat again."
Ghleanna shook her head and rubbed her fingers against her temples. "You two are such idiots."
Addolgar laughed. "I was just thinking the same thing about you lot!"
Braith of the Darkness, Daughter of the House of Penarddun, so named by the western city she'd destroyed when they'd sent an army to her cave to hunt her as if she were some common bear in the woods, landed on the side of Devenallt Mountain.
The seat of power for the Dragon Queen of the Southlands, Devenallt Mountain was the one place Braith loathed going. As a royal, there were certain times of the year she was expected to come and spend time among other royals, but she hated it. She had nothing in common with ... well ... anyone. She had nothing to say. At least nothing that would interest anyone. So she mostly just stood around, holding a chalice of wine she never drank, and waited until she could sneak out without being noticed.
Unfortunately, she wasn't here for a specific royal event but because she'd been sent for by her father. Something that frightened her more than she'd ever admit out loud. She wasn't close to her father. Never had been. Her father had always made it clear that, to him, she was nothing more than "your mother's daughter," which was fine with Braith. She didn't need her father and didn't want to be around him, and he had always seemed to feel the same. So why he was summoning her to Devenallt Mountain, she had no idea.
Determined to get this over with, she tossed back her blue hair and headed into the mountain stronghold.
Moving out of one cavern and into another, Braith stopped when she saw one of the Queen's offspring, Princess Rhiannon. Of all the Queen's offspring, Rhiannon was the only one whom Braith managed to tolerate, which was probably as close to a friendship as either of them had ever had.
"My lady," Braith said to the royal, dipping her head a bit out of respect.
"Braith of the Darkness. You look well."
"Thank you, my lady."
Those who dismissed Rhiannon as another vapid royal truly did not know her, and they didn't want to know her. And with reason. Queen Addiena, a being to be feared, loathed her daughter more than Braith's father loathed her. While Braith's father ignored her, Queen Addiena seemed to take pleasure in making Rhiannon's life miserable. The current ruler of the Southlands was a cold, heartless, and petty cow who wielded hate and revenge with knifelike precision.
"What brings you here to Happy Mountain?" Rhiannon asked Braith.
"I've been summoned by my father."
The princess cringed in a rather unroyal manner. "Poor you."
"It could be worse. You could have been summoned by that bi — gods!" the princess suddenly squealed, quickly turning her back to the entrance. "It's him."
Braith looked and saw Major Bercelak the Unpleasant — a name, it was rumored, that had been given to him by his own troops — making his way toward them. His gaze was locked on Rhiannon like a jungle cat's on a wounded deer.
In the mood to sacrifice herself for the greater good, Braith stepped around so that she stood between the pair. "Make a run for it, my lady. I'll protect your back."
"I'll not forget this, Braith of the Darkness."
Then Rhiannon took off, all that long, white hair flowing behind her.
Bercelak marched up to Braith, trying to see around her. "Where'd she go?"
Painfully black eyes locked on Braith. "Princess Rhiannon."
"Oh. I haven't seen her."
"She was just standing behind you." The black dragon glowered at Braith. "But maybe with that large ass of yours I just missed —"
"Bercelak!" the dragon's sister, Ghleanna, snarled as she stepped up behind him.
"She got in my way!" he barked.
"I don't care if she shaved your hair off. Be nice!" The black She-dragon nodded at Braith. "Lady Braith."
Now second lieutenant, Ghleanna might not outrank her brother in the Queen's Dragon Army, but she was his older sister and rank meant nothing when kin was involved.
"Sorry about my brother."
"You don't have to apologize for me," Bercelak snapped.
"Someone does!" she bellowed back, one of the few who showed no fear at the constantly snarling, glowering bear of a dragon. He had to be the most unpleasant bastard in the Southland territories, but, Braith could admit, he was very good at what he did, which was protecting the Southland borders.
"Oy," another voice said. "Did you lot hear?"
Then he was there. As tall as his brother, but wider. Like a mountain of granite inside the mountain fortress.
"Hear what?" Ghleanna asked while still glaring at Bercelak.
"About Davon the Elegant."
Ghleanna faced her handsome brother. "What about her?"
"Lightnings snatched her from her father's cave."
"What?" Ghleanna gasped, clearly shocked.
"Word is it was the Olgeirsson Horde."
"We should have killed that bastard Olgeir long ago," Bercelak growled. "The fact that he still breathes offends me."
"Did you hear of this, Lady Braith?" Ghleanna asked Braith.
"I had not."
But Braith wasn't exactly surprised. The Northland dragons did not breed many females, so they were often forced to steal She-dragons from other regions. But She-dragons weren't helpless victims waiting to be kidnapped, so the Lightnings usually cut off one wing when they took a female so that she could not fly away. And some She-dragons were so shamed by it, they ended up staying in the north with little to no fight. It was the kind of fear that could keep a She-dragon up at night and one of the reasons few knew where Braith lived. In fact, her father believed her cave was nearly fifty leagues away from where it actually was located. Not that she didn't trust him but ... no. She was lying. She didn't trust him.
"Perhaps that's why the Queen's asked us here," Ghleanna suggested. "So that we can track the bastards down and cut their hearts out."
"I want Olgeir dead as much as you," Bercelak complained, "but it annoys me that once again we need to run in and rescue the weak royals because they can't protect themselves."
Ghleanna rolled her eyes and rammed her fist into her younger brother's shoulder.
"Ow! What was that for?"
Ghleanna motioned to Braith. "We're standing next to a royal, you idiot."
"Does she really count?"
That's when Bercelak's brother took notice and cheered, "Braith of the Darkness! You're looking well!"
"She is?" Bercelak asked, which got him a shot to the neck from his sister's tail. He pushed Ghleanna back and the two began fighting. Addolgar ignored them both to focus on Braith.
"It's been a long time. How have you been doing?"
I'm fine. How are you? You're looking very handsome today, Addolgar the Handsome, lord of my loins.
At least that was what she'd like to say to him, but instead she came out with, "Yeah, hi."
Even worse, she said that into her chest because she couldn't bear to look into those lovely brown eyes. Her tail curled into a circle like a snake caught under the hot sun and her claws curled into tight fists.
Gods, he was handsome. She'd never known such a handsome dragon. His dark silver scales shiny. His fangs bright white and long. His dark silver hair reaching past massive shoulders to powerful muscled forearms.
And what was she? Her lip almost curled. She was nothing but Braith of the Darkness. Destroyer of a single city that no dragon had ever heard of.
How was that impressive to someone like Addolgar? Revered Dragonwarrior. Loved by his army comrades — dragon and human — and considered one of the "nice" Cadwaladrs of their Clan. The only other nice Cadwaladr was Addolgar's father, Ailean the Wicked.
Truth be told, it was Addolgar's good nature that warmed Braith's hard heart more than anything else. Not only because he was kind to her when even her own father was not, but also because he was kind to all he was not against in war.
Glancing over at his battling siblings, Addolgar said low, "Sorry about my brother, Braith. He can be a bit of a prat."
"Yeah," she said into her chest. "I know."
"What did he come over here for anyway?" Since, apparently, they both knew he'd never walk this way to see Braith.
"Rhiannon, I believe."
"Ahhhh. I see." Addolgar laughed. "His obsession with her is so ridiculous. That royal would cut his throat while he slept and laugh while he bled out."
Braith wished she could defend the princess on that ... but it was probably true.
"You two friends then?" he asked.
"Just royal politeness. I get it."
"Guess you could say that." Braith cleared her throat, studied her claws against the stone ground, and wondered when this nightmare of awkwardness would end.
"Oy! Addolgar!" his sister called out, now that she had Bercelak in a headlock.
"Looks like I've gotta go," Addolgar said.
"It was nice seeing you again, Lady Braith."
He walked around her and Braith let out a breath, grateful that was over. She hated that she seemed to be such a ridiculous mess around that dragon.
"You. Girl," her father's cold voice snapped at her from one of the chambers.
Braith turned toward her father. Perhaps if she could get this over with quickly, she could head home to her quiet, hidden cave with some cattle she could steal from the local farmers.
"Father," she said as coldly as he'd called to her. "You summoned me?"CHAPTER 2
"You didn't torment her, did you?"
Addolgar stared down at his sister while they waited in the crowded hall for their turn to speak with the Queen. "Torment who?"
"Torment her? No." He liked that big-boned dragoness. She seemed sweet, if a little shy.
"She's not bad-looking."
Addolgar shrugged and answered honestly, "I wouldn't know. She never looks at me."
"Do you have any idea why?" Ghleanna asked.
He grinned. "No. Why?"
Ghleanna sighed and looked away. "Pathetic."
"I don't like her," Bercelak complained.
"I think the feeling is mutual, little brother," Ghleanna replied. "She looked like she was seconds from tearing your eyes out."
"I don't know why," Bercelak replied. "I'm known throughout the land to be so friendly."
Excerpted from A Tale of Two Dragons by G.A. AIKEN. Copyright © 2013 G.A. Aiken. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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