Sidhe cannot lie. Yet Cedric lies about everything from being happy to being human. Hiding his true appearance with glamor runes, he's managed to live quietly among humans for nearly fifty years. But as he journeys to the capital at the behest of the empress, a chance encounter with the first dragon to be seen in a thousand years threatens to reveal all his secrets.
Talfryn commits a taboo every time he leaves the mountains. Yet for an outcast, long banished from the dragons' last city, taboos are trifles. He's more interested in acquiring items for his hoard. Drawn by the scent of a rare enchantment, he'll risk everything, including his freedom, to find the source.
Cedric shooed a sprite away from his brushes, making certain the plump little figure didn’t make off with any of them. They scampered back to their tree, chattering down at him until the dryad’s low voice soothed them. Cedric couldn’t help the smile as he finished packing up his brushes and paints. Silly little things were drawn to the scent of the turpentine he used to clean the oil paint from the brushes. Wouldn’t be good for them though.
Unclipping the wet linen canvas from the portable easel, he muttered a drying spell and watched the colors turn from glossy to matte within seconds. It didn’t dull the vibrancy of the colors, though he wished he had taken more time to capture the way the afternoon sunlight burned gold around the green leaves overhead. He still might be able to sell the piece for a few coins once he reached the city. Though he’d likely be too busy.
A distant whomp shook the ground under his feet. His fingers tightened on the canvas he’d just rolled as he looked up and down the dirt road he’d been traveling for the better part of a day. His horse let out a nervous whicker from where she stood under an elm tree, head high and ears perked toward the north. Of course it would be to the north, the direction he needed to go to get to Erriffiel. Through the thinning trees, he could just see a small clearing before the road disappeared down the hill. Nothing moved. Cedric glanced toward the massive water oak where he’d seen the dryad. The sprite was nowhere to be seen. Even as he watched, the dryad retreated, the glow of magic receding from around the tree. She wouldn’t have talked to him anyway. Sidhe weren’t supposed to be on this side of the veil. Lucky him.
Time to be going. Folding the small portable easel, he strapped it down behind the saddle and tucked the finished painting under a strap. Not the best way to cart around a painting, but something told him he needed to hurry. He shouldn’t have stopped to paint the dryad. Even if they were the first one he’d seen outside a preserve.
Another whomp, followed by the unmistakable crack of timber. A few leaves floated down, dislodged by the tremors. Cedric led his dancing mare in a small circle to calm her, then mounted. Grip tight on the reins, he turned her north to follow the road and kicked her into a trot. In the three days he’d been traveling north through rolling foothills, the biggest animals he’d seen had been a farmer’s pair of massive draft horses. He’d left the farms behind half a day ago, and now traveled through steep forested hills. Refusing the offer of an Imperial escort was looking like a foolish move now.
Gaze darting from one side of the road to the other, he ticked off the various animals he might encounter. Bears, wolves, the occasional mountain lion, but nothing big enough to make the kind of sound he was hearing. There were always the massive antlered alces, but they tended to shy away from humans. Unless it wasn’t a mundane creature. Or perhaps it was only loggers. That would explain it. No reason to get all worked up about an imaginary monster.
Hooves pounded behind him. Someone shouted. He’d just managed to pull his mare to the grassy side of the road when a massive gray charger shot past carrying a Sentinel in full regalia. He yelped and grabbed for anything he could as his mare reared and bolted after them. His stuttered calming spell fizzled out before taking effect. An enormous dark shape loomed up before them. The Sentinel’s charger nearly sat down in the dirt as it slid to a stop.
Cedric yanked back on the reins. Too late. The mare careened into what looked to be a black feathered tree trunk, vaulting Cedric up and over. He slammed down hard enough to knock the breath from his lungs and lay in the dirt blinking up at the blurred pattern of green and blue. What had they hit? His mare’s panicked screams drove him to his feet. He immediately forgot her, however, frozen in place as he took in the scene. The Sentinel had their sword out and struck at the dragon as it sidled backward.
Cedric’s heart stuttered in his chest, and he nearly sat down in the dirt. Dragon? How? They’d been wiped out nearly a thousand years ago. Yet this was indeed a dragon. Black and silver feathers glowed iridescent in the late afternoon sun. Delicate pointed ears swiveled this way and that as the large dark eyes tracked the knight’s movements. Obsidian black horns curled along either side of the narrow—almost equine—head but were too short to do much damage. It was beautiful. And utterly terrifying.
The Sentinel had the situation well in hand from the look of it, driving the beast back toward the edge of the forest that bordered the road. The charger pranced, tail high. The dragon roared as it shook off a blow from the sword. It allowed itself to be driven back between a pair of elms but made little rushes to either side of the Sentinel, jaws snapping at the charger’s legs. Wings flapped furiously, raising dust from the road that obscured the combatants.
The clang of metal on scale and alternating shouts and roars gave way to frantic neighing. Silence fell over the area like the dust that now drifted, threatening to choke Cedric.
Something heavy crashed through the underbrush to the right. Was it trying to escape? Cedric tensed, peering through the clouds of dust hanging in the air. Run? Stay still? What had his father told him about fighting dragons? Don’t, mostly. Shit. Of anything he could have met on the road, it had to be a fucking dragon. He dropped a hand to the dagger at his belt. It wouldn’t do much damage, but it might dissuade the dragon from eating him. A great black shape burst from the forest nearly on top him. He choked on a scream, dust clogging his throat.
Cedric found himself face to nose with the dragon. A soft snort blew his hair back from his face as the scent of pine tar and rain washed over him.