A rich medieval fantasy novel from an author whose work has been called “TRULY ORIGINAL . . . FANTASY AT ITS BEST.”
A perfectly crafted combination of medieval history, mythology, and fantasy, set on Wilde Island, featuring Uma Quarteneya half Euit and half English girl, who has never been fully accepted by her Euit tribeand Jackrun Pendragona fiery dragonrider with dragon, fairy, and human blood.
On the southernmost tip of Wilde Islandfar from the Dragonswood sanctuary and the Pendragon Castlelive the native Euit people. Uma wants to become a healer like her Euit father. But the mad English queen in the north, desperate for another child, kidnaps Uma and her father and demands that he cure her barrenness. After her father dies, Uma must ensure that the queen is with child by the time of the Dragon Moon, or be burned at the stake.
Terrified and alone, Uma reaches out to her only possible ally: the king's nephew Jackrun, a fiery dragonrider with dragon, fairy, and human blood. Together, they must navigate through a sea of untold secrets, unveil a dark plot spawned long ago in Dragonswood, and find a way to accept all the elementsEuit, English, dragon, and fairythat make them who they are.
About the Author
Janet Lee Carey was born in New York and grew up in California. She is the award-winning author of several young adult novels, most notably her epic fantasy novels set on Wilde IslandDragon's Keep, Dragonswood, and the upcoming In the Time of Dragon Moon. Janet lives near Seattle with her family where she writes and teaches writing workshops.
Read an Excerpt
Euit Village, Devil’s Boot on Wilde Island — Falcon Moon, April 1210
Knife in hand, I crouched under the willow. Father’s dragon skimmed over the river, her crimson scales blazed blood red across the surface. Her searing cry rang through the valley. Dragons live more than a thousand years; their turning eye sockets allow them to look forward and back, seeing past and future, patterns in time we humans can never see. My eyes were fixed on smaller things.
Today he will tell me. Today I will know.
I took my knife to the ends of my hair. Crow-black strands in my hand, red-toned where the morning sun struck them. The auburn from my English mother was nearly swallowed by the black, but I could not hide what I was: a girl, a half English. Under the willow, I covered the strands with soil. I’d buried much in this secret place.
Tying back what remained, I went to wash Father’s medicine pots in the river.
“Uma!” Ashune raced down the muddy riverbank, her baby screaming in her arms. “Help him please!”
I scrambled ashore, dripping. “What’s happened?”
“A bee stung him. And he . . . look!” She pulled back Melo’s blanket. His waving arm was red and swollen as a rotting plum. I gripped his tiny wrist. He wailed as I pulled the stinger out.
“Was he stung in other places?”
“No, just here.” Her eyes were wide. “Why is it so swollen?”
I heard a wheezing sound between cries. His throat was swelling shut. “It’s a bad reaction.”
Ashune hugged him to her chest. “He needs medicine, Uma.”
My father, the Adan, was the only healer in our village. He’d gone to Council Rock to speak to the elders on my behalf. I didn’t expect him back for hours.
Melo coughed, shuddered.
“Help him, Uma. Please!”
“I can’t. Only the Adan can—”
“You’re the Adan’s apprentice,” she cried. “Look at him. He can hardly breathe!”
“Wait here.” I raced uphill to the healer’s hut and ran my hand along the shelves. This could cost me my apprenticeship. But how could I let Melo suffocate? All Father’s hard work bringing Melo into the world would be in vain if he died, and Father was away just now because of me.
I grabbed the elixir I’d seen Father use and a jar of sooth-salve.
Little Melo was turning blue by the time I reached him again.
“Hold his mouth open, Ashune.” Holy Ones, help me help him. Our law was clear. No one but the Adan could heal the sick, but still I spilled three green drops on Melo’s tongue. So the law is broken in drops, I thought.
“Swallow it, little one, swallow.” Breathe. The world grew silent as I listened to his ragged sounds between each cry. I could not hear the wind in the branches, the rushing river; only Melo struggling for air.
“It’s not working,” Ashune cried.
“Pray,” I said. I dosed him again, gently ran my fingers along his throat to help him swallow.
Melo was conceived thanks to Father’s magnificent fertility cure. Breathe. Our small Euit tribe needed every child. Live.
Melo squirmed, sucked in air, and shuddered all over. He kicked in his blanket. Was the soft brown color coming back to his face? I gripped the elixir jar tight, watching him. He took a few more breaths that didn’t sound thick or strained. And with his breathing, other sounds returned—the breeze in the willows, the singing river.
“Holy Ones, you did it.” Ashune wept with joy, rocking her boy between us. She was a year older than me, eighteen when she bore Melo. It wasn’t an easy labor.
I wanted to hold him too: weep and rest my cheek against his downy head, but I had never seen my father do such a thing when he cured the sick. A healer kept his dignity. And his distance.
I rubbed the sooth-salve on Melo’s swollen arm, scooped out more of the ointment, and wrapped it in a leaf. “Rub this twice more on him today. Hide it in between.”
Ashune took the leaf.
“Tell no one you came to me,” I said.
“I won’t tell.”
She looked at me, silent a moment. The word Euit means “family.” Our chieftain said we were one family. We all belonged. It wasn’t that simple for me. Ashune’s mother caught us playing by the river together when I was six, she seven, and told her to keep away from the half English. I looked more like Father than Mother, with his skin, high cheekbones, and dark eyes, but that did not count for much back then. I knew I didn’t belong. Not long after that, I buried my girl’s clothes under the willow, left my mother’s side, and went to serve my father the Adan to become a person of value in the tribe.
Ashune rocked Melo. “Thank you, Uma.” Since the day her mother dragged her off, things had been awkward between us.
“I have washing to do,” I said, glancing down at the pots. She hesitated, but I waved her on. “Go. Melo should sleep.”
Ashune’s colorful woven skirts brushed past clumps of wild iris as she climbed back up the riverbank. Melo made a contented cooing sound. He was one of just five infants born to us after nine years of emptiness and waiting. No one knew why our women had stopped having children. Had some plague infected us? Had something entered our food or water? We still didn’t know, but after years of seeking, my father found the plants he needed to make his fertility potion.
I’d held Melo the night he was born. Today I’d cured him—maybe even saved his life. My heart swelled, tightening the binding cloth around my breasts as I watched Ashune heading back to the village.
In our family hut just before dinner, Mother gave me a new belt with twelve red dragons woven in it. Her green eyes shone with delight above her freckled cheeks. The belt was her wordless way of telling me she expected good news when Father came home. I clung to the belt, admiring her fine craftsmanship. Hoping. More than that, believing she was right.
Mother said, “I wove some of my hair into each dragon.” She’d done the same with Father’s sixteen-dragon belt. Her auburn strands gleamed in the red wool, adding vibrant orange tones. I hugged her before cinching it around my waist like a power charm, then stepped outside to wait for the Adan. Today he will tell me. Today I will know.
In the hut, Mother sang to herself as she grilled the tuki peppers, Poppies and roses in her hair. She is queen of the May. Oh sing to her gladly and never sing sadly, she is the light of our day. She loved the English ballads from her childhood, but I was no queen of the May.
I looked beyond the cone-shaped rush roofs to the thick forest climbing steeply beyond the village and felt a small flutter of excitement as Father came down the trail with his herbing basket.
I knelt and touched the Adan’s feet with reverence before he entered our hut. At dinner I could hardly eat around all my unasked questions. Father, for his part, seemed to be chewing his thoughts. I’d served as his apprentice for ten years, but no girl has ever become an Adan. If the chieftain agreed today, I’d be the first.
Father hadn’t accepted my help that first year; still I persisted. He did not like girlish chatter, so I was silent. He did not like weakness, so I stayed strong. He was never ill, so I was never ill—or if I was, I never let him know it.
I rubbed the old scar bisecting my palm. Tell me, Father. He bit. He chewed.
“I spoke with the chieftain about you,” Father said at last, dusting the crumbs from his mat. “Your path is chosen, Uma.”
I hooked my thumb through my new belt, tugging the flying dragons tighter against my waist, circling Uma Quarteney. Healer. Adan.
Father said, “You are to marry the hunter Ayo Hadyee in the time of Fox Moon.”
My stomach seized. “M . . . marry? But my healer’s path . . . Didn’t you ask the chieftain, Adan?”
“You have been a great help to me, Uma, but I’ve put things off too long. I should have started training a male apprentice sooner.”
“What male could learn as much as I already know?”
“Mi tupelli,” he said softly.
Mi tupelli—my lad. The nickname raked my heart. “Don’t call me that. Not now!” His brows flew up. I’d never raised my voice to him before.
“It’s been decided,” Father said. “As a female, you can be an Adan’s helpmate. Never a healer.”
“Then why this?” I tugged my tunic down to the fox mark below my collarbone. “Why did you burn the pattern of my Path Animal on my skin if I was never meant to be a healer?”
Such burns were reserved for warriors, elders, healers. I gloried under the excruciating pain the night he pressed the tip of the hot wire to my skin again and again until the tiny fox was complete. I took it as a sign I would become an Adan. A healer would not be shunned for being half English. A healer is needed. A healer belongs. And more than anything, I’d wanted to belong.
Father took Mother’s hand. “Paths can change directions, Uma. I know you dreamed of more, and for a time I also thought . . . but our laws guide us. It’s good for you to marry. You know how much we need children.”
“I’m needed as a healer. People have learned to accept me as your apprentice.” An acceptance that was hard-won. “I know how to help you treat our women with Kuyawan so they can have the children we need. Who else can do that?”
Father’s mouth was a stern line.
I said, “Does Ayo even want to marry a half English, a girl who does not cook or garden or weave, a girl who has dressed as a boy most of her life?” The look on Father’s face told me what I needed to know.
Mother said, “I understand how you feel, Uma.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Believe me, I do. I know how hard you’ve worked. I’ve seen it. It hurt for me to give up my midwife practice and come here to live a different life, learning Euit ways so I could marry your father, but I did it.”
“You did it because you love him! I don’t love Ayo Hadyee.”
“You can learn to love him, Uma. It’s what your father wants for you.”
“No! It’s what you want!”
I shot out the door. I didn’t know why I raced to the healer’s hut until my hands were on the jars I’d washed that morning, until I was hurling them across the room, breaking them against the wall.
“Uma, stop.” Mother came in, took my hands, and pulled me back outside. People had poured out of their huts, curious to see where the crashing sounds had come from. “Go back to your meals,” I shouted. “Leave us!”
A hot wind scoured us from above. Father’s red dragon, Vazan, must have heard the sound of breaking jars from the healer’s hut. She dove from the clouds and roared a warning fire over our heads. I pushed Mother away, wanting to scream fire right back at Father’s guardian. But no human breathes fire.
Or so I thought then.
The next day, after convincing Father to let me work beside him until Fox Moon came, I helped him attend my uncle Sudat, who’d accidentally cut his leg while skinning a goat. I was soothing my uncle with a smoking sage bundle as Father stitched the wound, when I heard horses’ hooves and shouting in the distance.
Father kept chanting as he stitched. The far-off shouting turned to screams. The Adan did not allow himself to be distracted, but I peered out the door.
“Adan,” I screamed. “King Arden’s army!” I’d not seen the king’s soldiers since I was small, when they’d burned our huts and forced us farther south. “They’re armed!”
A soldier raced up and slashed an old man’s neck right in front of our hut. Blood spurted onto the murderer’s boots and breeches.
Now people were running, scattering like goats frightened by a mountain lion. Two armed men burst into the healer’s hut.
“Are you Adan?” the taller one barked. Father looked at him. He did not say yes. He did not say no. But the soldier saw what Father was doing to mend my uncle’s leg. The shorter man grabbed me, shook the smoke bundle from my hand, and stomped it out with his boot.
“Are you the famous healer who cured infertile women?” the tall one asked. “Answer me!”
“Yes,” Father said.
Sudat groaned, “My leg.” His gash still gaped open. The soldier shoved Father aside and drove a dagger through my uncle’s heart, silencing him. I stopped the scream that came up my throat. It was like damming a river.
He turned his bloody blade on Father. “Pack all your medicines, old man. The queen of Wilde Island commands your presence.”
Father loaded his trunk. I watched the dagger’s point as if my eyes alone could keep Father alive.
The second soldier let me go. “Help him pack, boy. Stinks in here.” I did as I was told, wrapping the tincture jars, the fertility herbs we’d gone so far across the mountain to find. Father packed his herbal book and locked the trunk. He was whispering, praying to the Holy Ones. I was too sick with fear to pray.
The army encircled our village. Our warriors and the red dragons were away hunting. We were defenseless. Ashune hid in the trees with Melo. People ducked behind boulders, bushes, huts. The soldiers chained Father’s wrists and prodded him up the steps into the jail cart.
I raced up and jumped in the cart with him. Father pushed my shoulders. “No, Uma. Stay here with your mother.”
I gripped the iron bars so he couldn’t throw me outside.
A soldier jabbed me with his sword, slitting my pant leg where I crouched, clinging to the bars. “What are you doing, boy?”
“I am the Adan’s apprentice. He needs me.”
They looped a cold chain tight around my wrists, chained Father’s ankles and mine, and shut the metal door with a clank. Then the army set out, their lead chargers stirring up choking dust.
Through a brown cloud I saw Mother run out from our hut, her red hair streaming behind her as she raced after us calling my father’s name, calling mine. “Uma, no!”
I gripped the bars, afraid, as two soldiers grabbed her arms, stopping her. But they did not put the sword to her throat.
For once I was glad she was not like the other women in our village.
For once I was glad she was English.
Journey to Pendragon Castle — Falcon Moon to Fox Moon, April to May 1210
It was a grueling three-week journey. Half the army followed the king’s son, Prince Desmond Pendragon, north out of Devil’s Boot. The other half had stayed behind, surrounding our village. The queen wanted Father alive, but what would happen to Mother and everyone we left behind? What would the army do to them? My anxious thoughts churned in rhythm with the cart’s relentless wheels.
On the third day, I felt a rush of warm wind. “Father, look.” Large red wings cut through the thin clouds above. His dragon, Vazan, had found us! Her muscled body spanned the length of seven horses; twice that again if you measured her snout to tail. She skimmed down on wings as large as mainsails. Men shouted, straining to control their frightened horses. I gripped the bars, hoping she’d roar fire, kill our captors, even as I knew she wouldn’t do such a thing. Reds abided by the dragon treaty. They no longer killed humans. Or ate them. But at least she frightened the king’s men. Father winked at me as the cavalcade fell apart, horses galloping this way and that ahead of us.
Mother had told me stories about the royal Pendragons whose blood was mixed with dragons. But on our journey north, I never once saw Prince Desmond Pendragon behave like a man with noble dragons’ blood. One night he staggered drunk to our cage. “You’re looking at your next Pendragon king,” he said. “Call me Your Royal Highness.”
“Your Royal Highness,” we said, dry-tongued with thirst. We’d learned to obey. We were whipped when we did not.
“I’d order you to bow, but you’re chained up, so.” He shrugged and laughed. “By God, you Euit dogs stink! As soon as Mother sees you and your boy here, she’ll realize you’re a fraud. Healing infertile women. Ha. That’s a joke. I bet you used your own prick, old man.”
He staggered off. Devil! His words dug a pit of shame so deep in me I could not show my face to my father.
We were rarely fed, but one soldier with a crooked nose secretly shared his rations with us. “Here, eat,” he said pushing bread through the bars one night, dried meat another. We learned his name was Sir Geoffrey.
Fox Moon was a silver bracelet in the sky the week we reached the northeast coast and saw Pendragon Castle rising tall and dark on the edge of a cliff.
The closer our rattling jail cart got to the castle, the more my chest tightened. I could hardly breathe by the time we crossed the drawbridge. Father saw my face and wrapped his large hands around mine. He had never done that before. I looked down at our hands in astonished wonder.
“You did not have to come with me, Uma,” he whispered.
“I did. I couldn’t let you go alone.”
Soldiers hauled us through the wide castle door, down a chilly torchlit hall, our ankle chains clanking, and forced us up spiraling tower stairs to a room on the second floor. The minstrel’s music dulled to a wary halt as they dragged us inside. Girls and women put down their stitchery and stared.
Queen Adela sat on an ornately carved high-backed chair, wearing a velvet gown as purple as fresh bruises. The color set against her pale skin brought out the sheen of her hair, dark brown with a few silver strands thin as spider’s silk. She was beautiful and severe.
Mother told me witches had attacked her when she was younger, putting out her eye with a poker. The fey folk fashioned her a glass eye to replace it. When she’d regained her strength, she’d sought revenge as a witch hunter. That was before she’d become the queen, but I saw ferocity in her still, or was that just my fear looking back at me?
“Leave us!” she commanded. A dozen ladies-in-waiting dropped their sewing on the benches and scurried out behind the musicians. Only one woman remained at the queen’s side.
She was even paler than the queen, if that was possible. A single blond strand poked out from under her shoulder-length veil. I was used to warm, brown skin. These two made me think of snow and shiver.
Four blue eyes appraised us as if we were strange animals the guards had just deposited on the floor. I knew we stank. I wanted to say, We do not bite, but knew better.
Father cleared his throat.
“Remain silent until Her Majesty addresses you,” said the woman. “You are filthy,” she added, flicking out a colorful lacquered fan and fanning the queen.
Queen Adela asked, “Is it true you helped infertile women, Adan?” Her blue glass eye glinted in the afternoon light. “Is it true that they bore children after taking your cure?”
“It is true,” Father said.
“Call me Your Majesty!” she growled. “Who had you whipped?” she added, eyeing the long ragged tears in Father’s shirt.
“Your son, Prince Desmond, Your Majesty.”
The queen stared down at her lap. “My son, my son, my one and only son,” she whispered in a singsong voice, pinching her velvet skirts and pulling them apart as if she’d lost her son somewhere in the folds.
“What’s that?” she said, glancing toward the empty alcove to her right where the musicians played when we’d first come in. “Take it away,” she said to the empty space. “The pudding causes upheaval to my stomach.” Then she went back to pinching her skirts.
I heard Father’s slow intake of breath. No one had warned us that this queen, who’d abducted us, whose army held our people captive, this fey-eyed, former witch hunter, was mad.
The woman who entered our tower room the next morning was the same elegant English one who’d stood by Queen Adela. “I am the queen’s companion, Lady Olivia,” she said. “I have come to welcome you on your first official day here at Pendragon Castle. You bathed?” she asked, sniffing the air, her delicate nostrils flaring. We had scrubbed as best we could and changed into the new, strange English clothing. (They’d stolen our clothes and burned them.) A stale odor still haunted the armpits of my used scribe’s outfit, but I liked the ink-stained sleeves. Father looked his part in his dark physician’s robes. At least we both still wore our dragon belts.
“Yes, we bathed, thank you,” Father replied, looking up from his worktable. They’d housed us in a tower chamber called the Crow’s Nest where the queen’s physicians had lived. The windows faced all four directions. I’d unlatched the iron grid work and opened them first thing to air out the room.
“That’s ‘thank you, my lady,’” Lady Olivia said, still hovering near the open door as if she might make a quick escape. “You must learn castle etiquette if you want to keep your life. You are called upon to help Her Majesty. She is desperate for another child. She gave a son to the king sixteen years ago now. It’s a queen’s duty to mother the king’s children. Many children,” she added, her sharp blue eyes on Father. “Her Majesty feels she’s failed her husband. Do you understand the importance of your mission?”
Father gave a single, stern nod.
“Her last physician displeased Her Majesty. He’s in the dungeon awaiting judgment. She’s executed physicians for their foul treatments that promised everything and did nothing.” Lady Olivia paused a moment. “I tell you this as a warning. She is not getting any younger.”
“I am the Adan,” Father said, head high. “I have the medicine she needs.”
“News of your miracle cure has spread far and wide. That’s why Her Majesty sent for you.”
You mean stole him.
“I hope for your sake there’s more to it than market gossip.”
I flinched. “My father is the best—”
“Hush, Uma.” He brushed his sleeve, removing her comment with a slow downward swipe of his hand. Father could do that. I couldn’t. Her insult entered my blood like venom.
Father turned. “Am I to treat the other condition?”
“The . . . other?” Lady Olivia looked behind her suddenly, checking to see we were still alone.
“We saw her refuse the pudding, my lady. How often does she speak to people who are not there?”
Lady Olivia crossed the room, her heels clicking with purposeful steps. “Listen, Adan. That is your name, isn’t it?”
“It is my title.”
“No one speaks of the queen’s . . . episodes. She is unwell, and gossip-mongering—”
“I am no gossipmonger, my lady. I plan to treat both maladies.”
She moved to the worktable, whispering, “If you have something to balance her mind, give it to her. But I warn you.” She looked around again. “Never talk about her moods with anyone but me. You understand, Adan?”
She left us, shutting the door behind her. Father took out his scale and weighed the huzana leaves he used for his fertility cure, his hands flying swift and sure as birds. Mine were shaking as I struck the flints and lit the brazier to seethe the queen’s potion. “What do you think Queen Adela will do with the physician in the dungeon, Adan? Will she execute him like she did the others?” I was thinking about us, about our future here.
“Be present with what you are doing, Uma.”
“How will you treat her . . .” What did she call them? “. . . her episodes, Adan?”
This made him stop and look up. “The English do not understand about balancing the four sacred elements of earth, wind, water, and fire in the body. What imbalance did you see in this queen, mi tupelli?”
“She is not balanced by earth, she has some fire.” I was guessing.
“The queen is ruled by wind,” he said. “Her scattered thoughts and phantom visions are caused by wind mind.”
I felt the barb of failure in my gut. “You will use earth element plants to ground her?” I said, still wanting to appear knowledgeable. He ignored my attempt.
“I need the water seething, Uma.”
I watched him work as I heated the water, steam ghosting between us.
“You are too anxious for what you want, Uma. Begin by wanting what you have.”
Father chanted the Euit plant names as he dropped kea stems and huzana leaves in the simmering pot. I decided to be present with what I was doing, and chanted with him.
Every plant has a name, and the name holds the secrets of its origin—the dreams the earth fed its roots, down in the dark underneath. The name awakens the plant’s healing powers. I knew the powers these plants held, the power to bring new life.
In the queen’s aviary, the Adan gave Queen Adela the curative. After questioning my father about its name and its efficacy, she drank it down, watching Father over the chalice rim.
When she finished, Her Majesty dabbed her lips with her kerchief, then tossed birdseed to her songbirds, causing a small winged riot in the cage as they fluttered down. I felt sorry for the birds. Mother loved birds, especially small, bright finches. She would never hold them hostage the way this queen did.
“I am a generous queen. I plan to free your village if your cure works, Adan. Give me a child and my husband’s soldiers will break camp and march north again.”
She held out her hand. Lady Olivia mouthed to Father, Kneel and kiss her ring.
I took a breath. My revered father knelt to the Holy Ones in prayer and he bowed to his red dragon, never to another person. I felt a small landslide somewhere behind my ribs as he stepped closer, bent his neck, and put his lips to the queen’s ruby ring. The stone was as red as a wound. It flashed when she withdrew her hand and held it out again, this time to me.
I fell to my knees. The landslide had already occurred, though it did not make falling to the floor any easier. The ruby was frigid, a smooth dead thing, only slightly colder than Queen Adela’s hand.
“My son told me the soldiers had to kill some Euit men to bring you here,” she said to Father when I stood and backed away again. “If your healing tonic works, I will be content and so will the king. The men will have died in a good cause.”
Sickness washed up my throat. A good cause?
We turned to go.
“Face Her Majesty as you leave her presence,” instructed Lady Olivia. “Head lowered, back out.” Yesterday the guards had hauled us out in chains; today we walked out backward.
Later in the Crow’s Nest, I attacked the rushes with a broom to sweep the fury out of myself over the butchery back in Devil’s Boot, over my uncle and the rest of the men these English were content to kill in their good cause.
Pendragon Castle, Wilde Island — Snake Moon to Whale Moon, June to July 1210
On the last night of Snake Moon, someone pounded on our door. “Let us in. Now!” I slid the bolt aside and was brutally flung back as six armed palace guards with leashed hounds flooded in. Two dogs rammed into the worktable and set the measuring scale swinging.
“What is this?” Father asked, steadying the scale with one hand.
The pock-faced guard yelled, “Search!” He bounded to the wardrobe and threw our cloaks on the floor. The dog at the end of his leash jammed his head inside and sniffed around. I stood back alarmed as the king’s men unleashed the other dogs. Three raced over and sniffed Father’s bed on one side of the room, others pressed their noses under my mattress behind the screen. The palace guards slit both mattresses, and felt around in the straw. The dogs sniffed both before they lost interest and bounded over to Father.
“Arms out!” said Pock Face.
How dare he shout at the Adan. “What is this about?” I demanded.
“You too, boy!” he barked.
The palace guards patted down Father and me. The bald, stout man patted under my arms, ran his hands down my ribs, then across my chest, where he paused a moment. I recoiled inside, terrified he’d detected my true shape under my bound breasts. But he passed his hands over my hips and slid them down my breeches. I looked away when he was done. Four dogs were sniffing Father’s trunk, barking and growling.
“Open it!” Pock Face shouted.
Father pulled out his trunk key and paused, curling his weathered fingers around it.
I pushed through the men, wedging myself between growling hounds and trunk. The dogs snarled, their sharp teeth inches from my thighs, but I fixed my eyes on them, standing guard beside my father. “Why should he open it?” I said over the menacing growls. “The Adan’s medicines are in there. The dogs should not spoil the queen’s—”
“Stand back, boy!” Pock Face shoved me aside, throwing me hard against the wall, the thud as I hit it shaking my bones.
He drew his knife on Father. “Open it, Euit savage, or feel my point!”
Father knelt and slid the key in the lock. I clenched my teeth as the hounds jammed their wet noses in, sniffing the Adan’s valuable herbs. If any of them drooled on our precious curatives! Pock Face squatted and swiped his hand around inside, feeling herb bundles and tincture bottles, then stood, his eyes narrowed on the small leather sack he held out. “What’s this?”
“No!” I made a grab for it. Too late. He slit the sack down the middle. Precious earth from Devil’s Boot spilled on the floor. I dove for it, and the dogs beared their fangs. One leaped closer and snapped my sleeve. I reared back in terror, pressing myself against the wall as men and dogs trampled the small pile of sacred earth, all we had from home.
“What is this?” Sir Geoffrey Crooked Nose hurried into the tower room. He grabbed the two threatening dogs who had me up against the wall and pulled them back by their collars.
Pock Face looked up at Sir Geoffrey with a grin. “Following orders, sir.”
Sir Geoffrey leashed the hounds, tossed the leads to the men, and glared at the slit leather sack. “And you destroyed this man’s property because?”
“Thought it might be the missing coin purse, sir.”
So that’s what this was about? The English thought us thieves?
Sir Geoffrey surveyed the room. “Any coin purse found?”
“None we could turn up, sir. But these being foreign devils, thought we’d look here first, if you know what I mean.”
Sir Geoffrey waved his hand. “Go. You’ve got lots of other rooms to search.” The men tromped out with the dogs. On the floor against the wall, I heaved a sigh. Handing me what was left of the leather sack, Sir Geoffrey bowed stiffly to Father. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, Adan,” he said under his breath before raising his head again. “You are free now to go about your work.”
I stood up, shaking with anger.
“Why did they come in here?” Father asked.
“A cutthroat slit the lute player’s throat last night and stole his coin purse.”
Father and I looked at each other. Some elders called the moon the Murderous Moon at the end of its cycle. But even though we’d honored the end of Snake Moon with a ritual before we’d bedded down for the night, a man had still died here.
Sir Geoffrey hung our cloaks back in the wardrobe. “Men and hounds are searching the entire castle for the murderer.” He stuffed some straw in my slit mattress, placed it on my pallet, and turned to me. “Bolt your door when I’m gone and keep yourselves safe until we catch the cutthroat.” His brown eyes held me a moment longer. “I’m sorry for the roughness of my men.”
His penetrating eyes felt too invasive. I folded my arms across my chest, suddenly afraid he saw me for what I was—a woman in scribe’s clothing—then turned my back and knelt by the trunk to scoop up the spilled earth. By the time I’d gathered it all into a pile, Sir Geoffrey was gone.
A kitchen spit boy was seized later that day and punished so severely they had to call my father down to the dungeon.
“King wants him kept alive till his public hanging tomorrow,” said the stout guard who’d patted me down earlier.
“I didna do it,” the boy sobbed. In the rank dungeon cell, I pulled more bandages from the medicine basket while Father leaned over the cot. The king’s soldiers had cut off his hand and tried to stop the excessive blood flow with tight leather straps before calling the Adan down.
The guard leaned against the doorframe watching. “Oh, he’s guilty, right enough. Cried out his crimes when we stretched him on the rack, didn’t you, spit boy?”
“But I didna. I s . . . said I did it to stop the pain. They—” He was crying too hard to say more. I breathed through my mouth against the stink of sweat, blood, fear, and urine, and tried not to look too deep into the boy’s pale eyes set close together in his thin grimy face.
“I wouldn’t kill no one never,” sobbed the boy.
“He’s a lying thief,” said the guard. “We found the money sack under his straw mattress. Did it for the money, didn’t ya? Kitchen work don’t pay enough, is it?” he said, looking over Father’s shoulder. “And we found the knife he killed the musician with besides.”
“Someone put it there!” the spit boy cried.
“Shut him up or I will,” the guard growled at Father.
“Hold still,” Father said softly to the boy. “I’m nearly done, and I have something for the pain.”
“What’s that?” The guard stepped up to Father’s back. “Don’t give him nothing. Pain’s a part of the punishment. Just keep him alive for his hanging, that’s all.”
“That’s not right,” I argued.
“What do you Euits know of right and wrong?” he spat. “You’re done now, the both of you. Get out.” He shoved us down the dim dungeon hall.
“Father, I’m sure he’s telling the truth. What can we do?”
The Adan approached another guard near the base of the dungeon steps. “Tell me,” he said, “if the king wants the boy hanged tomorrow, why cut off his hand?”
“Oh, hands go off for thieving. Hanging’s for the murder, see?” He squinted at Father in the dim torchlight.
“He says he is innocent,” Father said.
“Oh, they all say that. But he confessed on the rack.”
“Anyone would under such torture,” I snapped, stepping closer, my hands curling to fists.
“What’s that, boy?” the man growled, reaching for his knife. Father yanked me away from the armed man. He dragged me firmly up the dungeon stairs, led me down the hall, and pressed me into a dark alcove.
“What were you thinking down there, Uma?” he whispered fiercely. “If you attacked one of the guards, they’d throw you in a cell. Do you want that?”
“I couldn’t help myself,” I said in a choking whisper. “It’s horrible, Father. They’ll hang an innocent boy. Can’t we go to the queen and say something to stop it?”
“What can we say that they she will hear?” Father said. “We are captives ourselves here, Uma.”
“We’re not in a cell. Not about to be hanged.”
Hearing footsteps, Father pressed himself closer to the wall in the dark alcove and whispered the chant “havuela”—become. I did the same, hoping my Euit skills were strong enough to blend into the walls as swiftly and easily as my father had done.
Prince Desmond came down the hall, arm in arm with Lady Olivia’s daughter, Bianca. I heard the swish of her silken gown just before they passed us. Bianca glanced aside; I tensed under her luminous blue eyes, but she did not seem to see us. I let out a silent sigh as they trailed down the hall in their colorful riding clothes, heading for one of their afternoon rides together.
Father waited silently until the halls were empty again before he faced me and put his warm hand on my shoulder. “I would say something if I thought it would change things for that boy,” he whispered, “but it won’t. You know it won’t.”
“It’s not right. Nothing is right here.”
“Nothing will ever be right here, Uma. I will do what is needed to satisfy the queen so we can go home to a free people. We cannot upset the balance of this. If we both die here, who will free our tribe?”
I looked into his sad eyes and nodded.
“Until we can go home, guard your power, mi tupelli.” He touched the dragon belt encircling my waist. “Never trust the English. You are the fox. They are the hounds. You must learn to survive. Promise me.”
Father worked. We survived. Still, the queen’s frustrations with the Adan’s cure sharpened. One afternoon late in Whale Moon she clicked the chalice rim against her teeth, glanced up at Lady Olivia, and said, “How long has Adan been serving us?”
“He came in May on Saint Florian’s Feast Day, Your Majesty. Nearly three months ago.”
“Three months,” she repeated. “And still I am not with child!”
“It can take time to conceive, Your Highness,” Father said.
“I beheaded Master Fenns, that cloying little man who leeched me dry. We’ve already had a hanging last month,” she mused before turning to Lady Olivia again. “I much prefer a burning. A double one,” she added, looking at Father and me. “If you fail me, you and your faithful apprentice can burn together, Adan. What do you think of that?”
Burn? I grabbed Father’s arm, the floor pitching underfoot.
“Tying two to a stake would be unusual. What do you think, Lady Olivia?”
Lady Olivia clutched her throat as if she were choking on a mouse. “Un . . . usual, yes, Your Majesty.”
The queen put out her hand for my father to kiss her ring.
As Father knelt, I noticed his narrow shoulders. He’d grown so thin working day and night for the queen; I could count the bony knobs along his neck. The sight startled me. The English did not know how to spice their food. You might as well chew ash. Still, I promised myself I would make him eat more; sleep more so he’d regain his strength.
That night I brought him ox-tail soup and thick buttered barley bread. Father got up from his prayers and waved it aside. “The Holy Ones have given me a vision,” he said, eyes sparkling. “I’ve seen where I must go to harvest the special remedy for the queen.”
Adans were gifted with visions. I’d never argued with him when he’d had one. Now I couldn’t stop myself. “You are overworked, Father. You need to eat, to rest.”
“I am the Adan,” he said.
“You treat our enemy.”
He flipped to the first page of his Herbal and pointed to a line in the Adan-duxma—the healer’s creed: Adans heal the wicked and the righteous alike.
I knew the line, I’d memorized the Adan-duxma as a part of my training.“But she will not let you go.”
Ignoring me, he flung the window open and called his dragon to the tower, a silent call, a summoning. He called Vazan this way when he truly needed her. Always I pricked my ears, hoping to hear some small sound from him. But the only sounds were those of pumping wings against the night sky as Vazan came to us like a great dark shadow. The room filled with her sharp peppery odor, the tang of rusted metal, her familiar spicy scent. Father crawled out onto the window ledge and carefully mounted her, swinging his leg over the base of her long neck.
“I will return by morning,” Father said. “Keep the door bolted, mi tupelli.”
Of course I would keep it bolted with a murderer still about. I leaned against the sill, wanted to call, Don’t go! Instead I jammed my hand outside, crying, “Take this!” He took a slice of the barley bread. A moment later he was gone.
He’d vanished just as quickly other times back in Devil’s Boot; days when he’d gone to gather herbs too far away for me to journey with him. Always I felt his leaving with the hot wind stirred by Vazan’s wings. Back then I’d gone home to our hut, watched Mother’s freckled hands fly, weaving bright patterns on her loom. I’d ask her for a song or story to ease my sadness. I’d give anything to see her, hold her, hear her smooth, low voice now.
I’d never felt this alone.
I ate some buttered barley bread, hoping Father would eat his. The English bread was good, but it sat in my stomach like a lump. I couldn’t face the ox-tail soup. I crawled into my narrow bed behind the screen. In my dreams Father and I were tied back to back to a stake. And burned. I bit my nails down to the quick that night and had to lick the blood from my fingers before I dressed.
“What did you do to yourself?” Father asked, looking at the swollen fingertips when he returned later the next morning.
“I . . . dreamed she burned us.”
“She won’t, Uma.” His brown eyes were soft above his sunken cheeks. “My medicine will work. I am the healer who will cure her. Trust me. You do trust me?”
“Yes, Father.” He looked so tired. “Why don’t you rest, Adan.”
“I have to work,” he said. “A child cannot grow in the queen when her mind is so troubled.” He pulled the bapeeta plants he’d gathered from his herbing basket. I recognized the five-point leaves that looked like an infant’s hands. “This herb will calm Her Majesty’s wind mind,” he said.
We turned the leaves over. The undersides had more tiny pollen dots than ferns do. I helped him scrape the pollen dust into packets. It was the dust he wanted.
I was afraid Her Majesty would detect the bapeeta in her curative brew. But Father was a master, adding just enough honey to hide any telltale bitterness. She took her morning and evening doses without comment that day. Father was pleased, but I saw his exhaustion the moment we left Her Majesty’s room that evening. Halfway up the stairs to the Crow’s Nest, he hunched over and clutched his arm, his brown face gray as if he’d bathed it in dust.
“You’re ill, Father.”
He waved my words away, went up and unlocked his Herbal. I took out his ink and quill and watched him draw the bapeeta. This plant differed from the ones that grew down south; the leaves here a smaller, brighter green. The Adan was careful to note such differences. He traced the shape of the leaves top and bottom, the pollen dotting the undersides, and wrote the Euit words beside it, noting the variations of color. He stopped a few times to grip his upper arm and draw in breath.
“Please take some medicine, Adan.”
“Uma. Let me work!”
I backed away, hurt. I could see he was in pain. Why would he never admit it even to me? Why would he never take any of his own medicine when he needed it?
Father worked another hour, finished the page, got slowly to his feet, and went to his bed. He usually prayed before he lay down, but I saw how little strength he had tonight.
“Eat a little first, Adan.”
“Not now, Uma.” Father turned and faced the wall. I covered him with the moth-eaten wool blanket. He needs his rest, I thought. He’ll feel better tomorrow. I was wrong.
He never woke the next morning. When I went to check on him, he was cold. He’d been dead for hours. My legs went out from under me. I fell with my head on his chest. I had not let him see me weep since I was a small child. Now the flood came rising up, roaring, breaking the banks inside me.
Pendragon Castle, Wilde Island — Whale Moon, July 1210
Palace guards pounded on the door. Sobbing, I swayed on my feet. Pock Face barged in with a second guard, saw my father’s body, then grabbed me and muscled me through the castle.
In Queen Adela’s bedchamber, I dove to the floor, prostrating myself.
“Your Majesty,” Pock Face said, “we could not bring your physician with your morning tonic. The man is dead.”
“Dead?” she asked, her voice cracking with the word.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Was he murdered in his bed?”
“Doesn’t look like murder, Your Majesty.” Pock Face sounded disappointed. “What shall we do with the leftovers?” he added, stepping closer to where I lay on the floor to jab my ribs with his boot.
“Wait outside in the landing, both of you, until I call for you again.”
They shuffled out, leaving me alone with Queen Adela and Lady Olivia.
“Look at me,” said the queen. I raised my head off the floor. Her Majesty selected a sweetmeat from a tray on the small table at her side. The glint coming off her golden fingerbowl stung my eyes that were still raw from crying.
“Tell me how he died. Did he take his own life?”
“No, Your Majesty,” I said, shocked. “The Adan would never do that.”
“Disease, then.” She leaned out from her chair narrowing her eyes. “A physician who cannot cure himself.”
I swallowed. “He would not take his own medicine, Your Majesty,” I said hoarsely. “He believed in using it only on his patients.” On you!
She huffed. “What a ridiculous way to die.”
She’d burn me now. I’d welcome it. It hurt too much to breathe with Father gone. I felt part dead already. But I heard my father’s voice: Never trust the English. You are the fox. They are the hounds. You must learn to survive. Promise me.
I was still on the floor. “Your Majesty, let me try and help you.”
Her lip twitched. “How can you help me?”
“I worked beside the Adan for years, Your Majesty.”
She flung the fingerbowl. It struck my temple before it hit the floor and rolled under her vanity. “He lied to me. Stop groveling,” she added. “And stand up. I said leave the room!” She spoke these last words to the vacant place by the door. By now I’d grown used to her addressing the air.
On my feet, I brushed away the rushes clinging to my breeches. Queen Adela studied me and smiled. “I see you.” She touched her cheek with her forefinger, pointing to her fey eye.
See me? What does she mean?
“You think you have fooled me in those scribe’s clothes, young woman?”
My knees began to wobble.
Lady Olivia blanched, blinking rapidly as if seeing me for the first time.
I gripped my dragon belt. “Your Majesty, I can explain. In our Euit tradition . . .” No, don’t tell her that. “I chose to dress this way in service to the Adan because—”
“I don’t want to hear anything about your quaint tribal customs. I am the queen of Wilde Island, and I have waited sixteen years to have a healthy second child. Your father promised me a marvelous cure. If this was not a lie, tell me why I am not already pregnant.”
Because you are going mad and the king fears visiting your bed. Because you are too old.
“The remedy does not always work right away, Your Majesty. One woman took Kuyawan for six months before she conceived. In time she birthed a healthy boy.” Ashune and little Melo.
The queen’s mouth curved down. I wasn’t convincing her.
“I have studied beside the Adan all my life. I know his remedies. Please give me the chance to help you have the child you want, Your Majesty. I promise I can do it.”
“Come here, Pippin.” The queen picked up her lapdog and stroked his head, her face now strangely serene. I’d seen her quick mood changes before. They did not mean anything.
“You beg me for a chance,” she said. “What do you have to offer that your father did not?”
Sweat dripped down my back. Nothing. He was a great healer. “Time, Your Majesty.”
“Time?” The queen squeezed Pippin’s neck. He yelped before he struggled free and jumped down to hide under the table. “I have given your father too much time already.
Pock Face rushed in with a second man, they grabbed my arms and started dragging me from the solar.
“Wait, please. You haven’t taken the cure a full six months, Your Majesty. What if just a few more doses—”
“Stop a moment,” Queen Adela said, raising her hand. The men held me firmly, pinning my arms against my sides as if I might fly away.
“Three months more,” she mused. “That would be October’s end,” she said, tapping her armrest with her long nails, a sound like hungry woodpeckers searching for food.
October’s end. By the death of Dragon Moon. I wasn’t sure it gave me enough time, but it was too late to retract my words.
She fixed her eyes on me. “If I give you this chance, Uma, the first thing you will do is to destroy those foolish clothes.” She turned to her companion. “Lady Olivia, your daughter is about Uma’s height, if a little rounder, is she not? Have Bianca give my new physician two of her prettiest gowns. I’m remembering a blue velvet one with pearls along the neckline.”
Lady Olivia’s face went hard as ironwood. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
Pock Face lost his grip a moment and stared at me bewildered.
The queen stretched out her hand. “You may show your gratitude now, Uma.”
I crept forward and kissed her ruby ring, keeping my head low. “Thank you, Your Majesty.” I would live a little longer. But her offer meant nothing if she didn’t mean to release my tribe once she got the child she wanted.
Queen Adela withdrew her hand. “Take her out. I am finished with her until she’s properly dressed.”
I saw my reflection in the queen’s vanity mirror as the guards led me to the door: a girl-boy in dirty tunic and breeches, with a dark, tear-stained face.
“Oh, and Uma?” The men paused, holding my upper arms tight. “You have hidden yourself from us in many ways while you worked in the shadow of your father. Now I will bring you into the light. We will see if you bloom or burn.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Dragonswood and Dragon's Keep:
"Painful, cathartic and cautiously hopeful."--Kirkus (starred review for Dragonswood)
"Readers will look forward to the future of Wilde Island. . . Perfectly crafted"--SLJ (starred review for Dragonswood)
"Stunning, lyrical prose."--Booklist (starred review for Dragon's Keep)
"While the story has roots in traditional fairy tales and legends, the author has crafted something new and magical."--SLJ (starred review for Dragon's Keep)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In The Time of Dragon Moon was everything a fantasy book should be. It had magic, romance, action, and betrayal all wrapped in an engrossing fairy tale. It was also powerfully and beautifully written. I only wish the arc had a map for me to consult (but the finished copy will have one!). In the Time of Dragon Moon is actually sequel to Dragonswood, a gem that I found in the library one afternoon not knowing much about it. You can certainly read Dragon Moon separately and nothing about the story is diminished. However reading Dragonswood first adds so much nuance and history to the world and characters. It’s set in this really interesting alternate medieval England ruled by the Pendragon family, who I believe are supposed to be descended from King Arthur. There are three islands that make up the country, along with fairies, dragons, and a native population, all of whom coexist uneasily with the English. It creates this environment rife with political and cultural tension, as well as lots of exhilarating action and sneaky character motives. I loved Uma. She was such a strong, interesting character caught between two worlds in more ways than one. The pull between her English and Euit sides, and the pull between her womanhood and being a healer in her culture gave her this fascinating character arc. I liked watching her reconcile her fears and dreams and finding a path to follow that made her happy. I liked learning about the Euit culture, especially the animal moons and how they affected life. And her relationship with Queen Adela was chilling. It was filled with hated and mistrust along with sympathy and pity, her healer’s oath warring with her real feelings about the queen. But most of all I loved her relationship with Jackrun. They were both outcasts in a sense for different reasons and watching them learn to trust each other, to build a friendship, and the way Jackrun continually stood up for Uma while also respecting and nurturing her was wonderful. I looooved Jackrun! My favorite part of the story was how Janet Lee Carey wove her unique dragon mythology into her alternate medieval setting. There are different types of dragons with their own dragon culture, some of whom treat with humans, some who won’t. And in the Pendragon bloodline, humans can be born with dragon scales and dragon traits. The fairies are less unique but no less interesting. They are magnanimous and beautiful and frightening. I loved the intermixing of species and cultures in the story; they each had their own part to play. This book was just a wonderful concoction of history, magic, passion, brutality, forgiveness, love, and fantasy creatures. And even a murder mystery, I always love seeing how those are pieced together. If you enjoy lyrical prose, a fascinating cast of characters, rich worldbuilding, slow burn romance, and dragons, you have to read In The Time of Dragon Moon!
One of the best dragon books I have read in a LONG time! Nice blend of slow romance, adventure at every turn, and everlasting magic everywhere in this book! Recommended if you love magic, fantasy, and dragons, of course!
Wonderful. I wish there were more books! I was so sad when it ended.