Vankara (Book 1), page 20
After I took the vial, the liquid stopped glowing and simply took on the form of water. Lorenna turned and walked quickly back the way she came.
I looked at the vial in my hands but saw nothing particularly revealing about its contents.
“How does this prove the Vankaran mages are responsible for the plagues?” I finally asked Queen Nuala.
“Have one of your mages touch it and it will glow just as it did in Lorenna’s hands.”
“I still don’t understand what that proves.”
“Lorenna’s mother was the one who sought an answer to the plagues. She was able to cast a revealing charm on the melted snow within the vial. Anyone with magic can hold the vial and call upon the magic which was used to bind the plague to the water.”
“So this only proves the plagues are magical in nature. It doesn’t prove a vankaran is responsible?”
One of Nuala’s eyebrows arched imperiously. “No, it doesn’t connect your people directly with the plagues. But, by a simple process of illumination, only your people have the combined power to cast such a spell. We have less than ten mages among the fae. How many do you have? Over a hundred, possibly double that number?”
I had no idea how many mages attended the college but saw no reason to confirm her suspicions.
“So all either one of us knows for sure is that the plagues were caused by magic. Without further proof, I don’t believe we can place the blame on anyone yet. But I do promise you I will find out who is behind it.”
“Then I wish you luck in your quest and hope you have the stomach for what needs to be done to the culprits responsible for such an atrocity.”
“You have my word, they will not go unpunished.”
Nuala inclined her head as she accepted my promise.
“Kian, would you please show Queen Emma and her escort back the way they came. I’m sure the Queen will want to return to her people as soon as she can.”
The dismissal wasn’t lost on me. Now that we had been given what we came for, Nuala wanted us to leave as soon as possible.
As Kian escorted us back out of the great chamber, I glanced back at Nuala and saw her speaking quietly with her dragon. A beautiful smile lit her face. It made me trust her even less.
Once we were well out of the village, I practically had to beg a stubborn Fallon to stop so I could tend to his wounds. Even though he was far too pig headed to admit it, I could tell he was forcing himself to hide how much pain he was actually experiencing. His show of machismo was unnecessary but his pride seemed to be an unending source for it.
“I’m only doing this to make you feel better,” Fallon begrudgingly said as he dismounted his horse. I saw a grimace of pain cross his face as his feet touched ground and felt sure he was secretly thankful for my badgering.
“I appreciate your concern for my mental well being,” I replied, getting off of my own horse and grabbing a fresh set of bandages, the bottle of laudanum and jar of red pepper paste from my saddle bag.
“Sit in front of that tree,” I ordered, pointing to one of the ubiquitous redwoods lining the pathway.
Fallon did as I asked with only a slight intelligible grumble and slowly began to unbuttoned his jacket.
The makeshift bandages across his wounds were spotted with blood. I delicately unwound the cloth from around his torso, the action unintentionally bringing us into close contact with one another. As before in my office, I could smell the sweet aroma of wintergreen surrounding Fallon.
“Why do I always smell wintergreen when I’m around you?” I asked.
Fallon grinned. “I have a sweet tooth.”
He put his right hand in the pocket of his jacket and brought out a small green drawstring bag. With one hand, he opened it and took out a piece of hard green candy holding it out to me between his thumb and forefinger.
“Want to try a piece?”
“Let me finish wrapping this bandage first,” I said but Fallon was already lifting the piece of candy to my lips since my hands were otherwise occupied.
Not wanting to seem rude or ungrateful, I let him place the sweet confection on my tongue. The gesture was intimate; something two lovers might do for one another. But, considering the circumstances, I let the moment pass as though it meant nothing at all.
I rolled the piece of candy around with my tongue.
“I taste wintergreen, cinnamon and honey,” I noted.
“The cooks in the palace make batches of these all the time. If you like it, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind making some for the Queen.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for the candy.”
After I took off all the bandages, I sat back and looked at the raw talon marks across Fallon’s chest. They were slightly swollen now and I knew we needed to get back to the palace as quickly as we could before they became inflamed with infection. Halfway through my ministrations of a new layer of pepper paste, I felt the weight of Fallon’s stare on my face.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked, becoming completely self conscience of my appearance.
“Did you know your hair smells like lavender?” He whispered.
“Is the smell bothering you?”
“No,” he said, resting his head back against the tree trunk and closing his eyes, “it’s nice.”
Fallon remained in that position until after I was finished ministering to his wounds and had him re-bandaged. I then tried to hand him the vial of laudanum.
“You should take some of it to help take the edge off of the pain.”
“Nope,” Fallon said as he stood. He held a hand down to me to help me get to my feet.
“Why not? I can tell you’re hurting. The laudanum will help.” I urged, taking his offered hand and rising.
“First things first, Sarah. We need to get you back to the other side of the wall as soon as possible. Then you can badger me about taking care of myself.”
“Has anyone ever mentioned what a stubborn man you are?”
“Practically everyone I know,” he said with a grin. “Now come on, we need to get back before it gets too late.”
By the time Fallon and I reached the Iron Wall, dusk had settled over the forest lending it an eerie feeling in the twilight of a dying day. Thankfully, we had no problem finding the pile of branches Fallon’s left against the wall to mark where the magically concealed door was.
While Fallon moved the branches, I found a nearby tree and made a soft nest out of fallen leaves by its trunk for the dragonling to keep warm in. I didn’t know what else to do for it. I had secretly hoped the fae Queen would take the dragonling off my hands and find a proper home for her. Guilt riddled my heart as I sat her down amongst the orange and brown leaves. Her small head turned up to look at me in shock, like she knew exactly what I was thinking.
The dragonling let out a yelping sort of noise and quickly clambered up my cloak to once again perch on my shoulder.
I faintly heard Fallon say the incantation to open the door behind me.
I plucked the dragonling off my shoulder and set her back in the nest of leaves, “You can’t come with me. I’m sorry but you have to stay here.”
Just as before, the dragonling quickly clambered back up to my shoulder this time rubbing her silky smooth head against my neck as it made a mewling sound which sounded a lot like crying.
“Problems?” Fallon asked coming to stand beside me, looking at the dragonling.
“She won’t stay put,” I said helplessly.
“Here, give her to me,” Fallon gently pried the protesting dragon from my shoulder. “Take the horses through the door then I’ll follow after you.”
As soon as I turned my back to the dragonling, I heard her let out an awful cry of despair. I quickly untied the horses from the tree branch they were tethered to and practically ran out the do
I fell to my knees, pressing a hand against my heart in a futile effort to ebb its pain. I felt like a piece of me was missing and could still hear the cries of the dragonling inside my head rending the hole in my heart even wider.
“Sarah?” I heard Fallon’s voice faintly through the sound of my own sobbing. “Sarah, what’s wrong?”
Even the desperate worry in Fallon’s voice couldn’t break the spell I was under. I felt hopeless, like life just wasn’t worth living anymore. I tried to think of Dena to break through my despair but even the remembrance of her warm laughter couldn’t melt the coldness slowly permeating my soul. All I wanted to do was lie on the ground until my heart stopped beating to end its torture. Death would at least bring respite from the unending pain.
I was only faintly aware of Fallon moving around me, asking me questions I was unable to answer. My whole body felt like a wasteland of despair. How long would it take the small dragonling to die? Did her heart ache in the same way mine did? I felt sure if that were the case neither of us would survive long and our shared torture would end unhappily.
I felt Fallon’s warm hands caress my face just as a small cold tongue attempted to dry the trail of tears along my cheeks. When I opened my eyes, the small blue luminescent eyes of the dragonling stared back at me. The font supplying my tears seemed to instantly dry. I sat up and held my hand out to the young dragon as it quickly jumped onto my arm and retook its rightful place on my shoulder.
My eyes felt swollen, almost completely shut from the strain of crying so hard. I looked up at Fallon and saw the worry on his face.
“Well, I guess we can’t just ditch the little thing,” he finally said, bending down on one knee in front of us.
“I don’t know what happened,” I confessed, wiping the rest of the tears from my face. “I just felt crippled with hopelessness, like there wasn’t any reason to go on living. I’ve never felt like that. Not even when I was living as April Pew.”
“Was being April Pew that bad?” Fallon asked amused by my statement, assuming I was exaggerating my plight.
“No, April Pew wasn’t that bad but living with Mrs. Pew was.” I didn’t see any need to delve into an explicit description of the torturous life I once led. That girl died a long time ago.
The grin on Fallon’s face quickly fell as he realized the sort of life April Pew must have suffered through.
“I’m sorry,” he said, unable to think of any other way to reply.
“Forget it,” I shook my head.
The dragonling swiftly scurried underneath my cloak like it had been frightened by something. Seconds later, we heard the grinding of metal and saw Gabriel walk out of the tree which housed the door to the underground tunnel.
“What on earth happened to the two of you?” Gabriel asked taking in my tear swollen face and Fallon’s ripped jacket and bandages.
“It’s a long story,” Fallon told him, lending me his hand to help me off the ground. “We’ll tell you everything but I think we need to get back to the palace before I pass out.”
On the walk back through the underground tunnel, I told Gabriel every detail of our adventure on fae territory. He listened intently and made me stop so he could see the small dragonling now soundly asleep on my shoulder.
“Well, I’m not sure how we’re going to come up with a convincing explanation for that thing,” Gabriel said, studying the dragon closely. “Are you sure we can’t just leave it on the other side of the wall?”
I couldn’t help but gasp and Fallon said a resounding, “No.”
“Whether I like it or not,” I told Gabriel. “She and I are a part of each other.”
“I just don’t understand why she chose to bond with you,” Gabriel said perplexed by the situation. “I’ve only known dragons to bond with the fae. I’ve never heard of one choosing a Vankaran.”
“Could it be because I’m a shifter?” I asked.
“I honestly don’t know but that’s as good a reason as any I can come up with.”
We let the matter drop. It seemed almost pointless to continue debating the reasons why the young dragon chose me to be its life companion. And to be honest, I didn’t really care anymore. Having her near brought contentment into my life, something I had never fully experienced before, not even while I lived with the Harkers. Although I loved my life with them, I always felt a nagging guilt because I was only a cheap imitation of their real daughter. Whether or not others would understand why the dragon was so important to me didn’t matter. I was hers and she was mine. And that was the way things were meant to be.
By the time we reached the small garden outside my private chambers, evening had settled, hiding our arrival from transient observers. Fallon did his best to make it on his own two feet but in the end even someone as strong as him had to ask for help. Gabriel acted as Fallon’s crutch as we made our way across the lawn to the glass doors leading into the drawing room. We were greeted by the sound of Dena’s infectious laughter and I felt the small dragonling excitedly tap its tail against my shoulder in anticipation of meeting the child within.
We found Aleksander and Dena sitting on the floor before the hearth. He had his hands against her sides tickling her unmercilessly causing Dena to bend over in fits of giggles. Aleksander was dressed casually in a white tunic style shirt and black pants tucked into his black leather riding boots. Dena was already dressed for bed wearing a long white nightgown with lace edging.
When the three of us entered the room, Aleksander’s brilliant smile completely disappeared. He gently raised Dena to stand on her feet. The room felt as if all of the joy had been sucked out of it with our appearance.
When Dena’s eyes found me, she immediately raised her small arms into the air and yelled, “Mummy!” before promptly running to me and hugging me tightly around the legs. I picked her up and kissed her.
“Mummy, I love you,” she said, wrapping her arms around my neck and placing her head against my shoulder.
I breathed in the clean scent of her hair and hugged her tightly, reveling in the love she readily lavished on me.
Aleksander rose to his full height with a scowl on his face.
“What happened?” He asked Fallon, his disapproving eyes falling to the ripped jacket and bloody bandages Fallon wore.
“Not now, Aleksander,” Gabriel grunted, shouldering most of Fallon’s weight. “Help me take him to the guest room before he falls to the floor.”
Fallon was deathly pale. I feared his bravado during the day was taking its toll out of his flesh now that we were safely home. It was the first time since that morning I became frightened over the possibility of losing him.
“Can I do anything, Gabriel?” I asked, wanting to help even if it was just something minor.
“No, stay with Dena,” Gabriel replied. “I need to see the amount of damage that was done first.”
As Aleksander and Gabriel carried Fallon to the guest room, I felt the gentle nudge of the dragon against my neck and knew she wanted out of her hiding place to be introduced to Dena. Not wanting Aleksander to see my dragon companion just yet, I took Dena to her room and laid her down on her miniaturized version of my own bed. When I took off my cloak to reveal the dragon hiding there, Dena let out a squeal of joy. The dragonling spread its wings and made a wobbly descent onto Dena’s lap discovering a new life long friend in my daughter.
After about an hour of Dena and the dragon playing, the little princess finally became tired and drifted off to sleep. The dragon scurried up my body to her favorite spot on my shoulder and rubbed her silky head against my cheek.
I could hear movement in the drawing room and quickly put my cloak back on in case it was Aleksander.
“Oh! Excuse me, your majesty,” Emily said with a hand against her heart in surprise. “I had no idea you were in there. I was just going to check on Dena since King Aleksander wasn’t here any more.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I told her, quietly closing the door to Dena’s room behind me. “She’s sound asleep.”
“Are you feeing better, your majesty?” Emily asked. “Gabriel said you were sick today and wouldn’t let anyone in your room besides himself. I thought he was going to have a fit when King Aleksander barged in there. Gabriel closed the door so quick I assumed whatever you might have was contagious. But then King Aleksander came out looking like the cat who ate the canary and told me to take the rest of the day off and not come back ‘til bed time because he wanted to take care of Dena himself. I hope that was all right, your majesty.”
“That was fine, Emily. Dena seemed to have a good time with him today.”
“Is there anything I can do for your majesty before I go to bed?”
“No. Go ahead and get some rest. I’m sure you’ll need all you can get to chase after Dena tomorrow.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” Emily curtseyed and made her way to her bed chamber.
I waited until Emily was out of sight before heading to the guest room. I didn’t knock before entering because I didn’t want to alert Emily to the happenings within the room.
I found Fallon sleeping on the bed, naked to his waist with a quilt covering the rest of his body. Gabriel had stitched his wounds neatly with black thread. Aleksander stood leaned up against the wall to the left of me as I entered the room. His arms were crossed over his chest and he had a brooding expression on his face as he stared hard at Fallon.
I closed the door behind me quietly and whispered, “Where is Gabriel?”
“He went to get something for Fallon’s wounds,” Aleksander said in his full voice.