Ariana never expected to care about the dragon that kidnapped her, but after five years together, they've grown to be close friends. He's truly as much a prisoner as she is, commanded by the mysterious "master" who orchestrated her abduction.
But when her dragon is abruptly torn away from her, Ariana is faced with a new guardian, the irksome and ill-tempered Braith. Is this new dragon a captor or a friend ... or something else? How far should she go to protect him from her own would-be rescuers? And when his master is finally revealed, will it mean freedom at last, or only greater danger?
“Why have you come here, Braith?”
“With my father’s death, his debt passed to me. Not in a merely theoretical way, as you humans observe, but in a quite tangible manner. However did my father stand this?” He rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, as if to dislodge a weight.
“To whom do you owe this debt?”
He opened his mouth, but looked startled, then viciously amused, when no sound emerged. “It appears I am forbidden to speak of that. A condition of the task.”
I cursed inwardly. It had been worth testing.
“Why does this task fall to you? Because your father left it uncompleted?”
“Indeed.” His voice dropped. “My father left many things uncompleted.”
“Since you are in here, I presume you have finished the grave.
Are you qualified to perform whatever sort of funeral service dragons prefer?”
“No, but I have done what I could in any case, as there is no one else.”
“You have done ...? Do you mean to say you have buried him already?”
I could not hide my distress. “Did it not occur to you that his friends might like to attend?”
“Friends?” He seemed honestly baffled, then angry as he understood my meaning. “You count yourself a friend, you who caused his death?”
“I did nothing of the sort! You think I stay here by own will?”
He rubbed his eyes, hair falling across his face. “No,” he said, abruptly more weary than angered. “I’m sure you do not. It did not occur to me that you would care, for which I suppose I must apologize.”
Deflated by his sudden surrender, I had to fight all the harder not to weep. “H-he did have a service, then?”
“He should have had a pyre, but I do not know the proper ritual…To go without a pyre invites ghouls, they love nothing better than to raid the grave of a dragon, but ghouls do not venture this far north. Burial it must be, for now, and the bones be burned later, perhaps by a grandson. The grave must not be disturbed until then if he is to find his way ...” He shook his head. “And now I will ask questions, princess. Why was my father tasked with guarding you here?”
“You ask me this?” I laughed bitterly. “I had rather hoped to hear you explain it.”
He gazed at me with dark frustration. My stomach growled.
“Go ahead, eat,” he said, with just enough amusement to annoy.
“I know well that you have had a taxing day.”
How dare he, how dare he poke fun -- his own father -- I swallowed my anger, with difficulty, and sat down at the table, stacking my plate with bread, cheese ... and what fish was left from this morning. My hand faltered there, my head suddenly filled with the image of Rindargeth laughing, complimenting Genevieve’s culinary achievement, raising a glass to my birthday fish.
“You have been here five years?” Braith asked.
“Exactly five years today.” I forced myself to take a bite of the fish. I was hungry enough to eat much worse things.
“How came all these others? The fairy, the simpleton --” “Do not call him that.”
He checked, bemused. “The stableboy, then. And the woman who is too shy to speak. How came they here? Did you bring them? It is not usual, in these situations, to bring along a retinue.”
“Genevieve is not shy, or not merely shy, but mute.” I did not wish to see this dragon grow irritated with her ‘refusal’ to speak. “And I brought no one. They came in various ways, mostly accidental, and once here, of course, could not leave.”
“I suppose things of that sort are inevitable, with such a circle -- only most do not last long enough ... “Why have your kin not come for you, in five years?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and did not let on that he touched a bruise. “Perhaps they will come tomorrow, and my father will carry your head home to be mounted in the dining hall.”
“Perhaps they will come tomorrow, and join my father in that little village of graves on the hillside.”
I slapped my fork down onto the table. “I will not stay here with you, dragon, breathe what threats you will!”