Heart of the Dragon
When the dragon Madfall steals a basket from the castle, he expects it to contain gold—not a baby.
Seventeen years later, Richard of Benfro expects to meet certain death when he sets out to slay the dragon—but instead he finds himself face to face with a cute boy.
When the two worlds collide, Oenyn is caught between the loving parent who raised him and the human world to which he rightfully belongs. Luckily, being raised by a dragon means he's plenty stubborn. He won't give up what he loves without a fight.
Madfall crept low on his belly, pressing close to the ground to avoid being seen. He narrowed his eyes. He had been watching the castle for days from his position outside the royal treasury. A single chink in the wall, where a stone had been carefully pried out months before, revealed the corridor outside the heavily-guarded room. The sentinels moved in rotations; there was never a moment when there wasn’t at least one armed guard outside the heavy, metal-laced door.
But Madfall wasn’t the greatest thief in the land for nothing. Hadn’t he stolen the Eye of Brahma right off the Raj’s head? Hadn’t the Queen’s favorite tiara been plucked from her room at the height of day? Hadn’t the central bank’s vault been plundered two times this calendar year already?
Madfall wriggled closer. No, a few dozen guards weren’t enough to deter him.
A young woman with a sweet face and an ample bosom approached the door, a large bread basket dangling from her round arm. If Madfall didn’t know better, he would have sworn she was nothing more than an assistant baker, delivering bread throughout the castle. But Madfall had been watching. Under her servant’s skirts were four glistening, dangerously sharp knives—two strapped to her waist and one in each dainty boot she wore. A small axe, it’s blade curved and gleaming, rested at the bottom of the basket. Her sweet smile hid the deadly precision with which she could wield the weapons. The baker’s assistant wasn’t there for bread; she was there for gold.
It had taken Madfall weeks to work it out, but his careful surveillance of the castle had finally paid off. Every Friday the girl lined her basket with gold, covered it with bread to muffle the sound of the coins, and then strolled into the town center to deliver it to the king’s agent. Merchants would line up at the office door in the afternoon to collect payments for that week’s goods—the vast amount of flour, meat, cloth, and other items the castle used in a seven-day period.
Over the years there had been ample speculation in the country’s underbelly about how the money was delivered to the king’s agent. Highwaymen lined the roads into town, stopping every coach and carriage that bore the royal crest—and most of those that didn’t. But the girl with the bread didn’t ride in a cart or carriage. She rambled in the morning sun with a number of other palace servants, none of them holding anything larger than a basket—and the highwaymen were confident that a single woman would not be able to lift the amount of gold that was needed by the king’s agent every week. The women were allowed to pass unharassed—save for some unsavory comments that brought red to their cheeks.
None of the other thieves in the kingdom had ever figured out the secret of the bread basket—but Madfall had. He watched through narrowed eyes as the girl entered the treasury with a flirty smile at the guard. A few minutes later she strolled out again, her face never belying the added weight that hung over her arm. She wiggled her fingers in the guard’s direction and turned down the hall.
It was time. Madfall took one last look at the treasury door, the iron bolts in place again, and slithered away from the lookout. The castle perched precariously on a bed of stone, the rough crags overhanging the raging sea. Except for the long bridge which connected the spit of rock to the mainland, the castle was impenetrable.
For a human, anyway.
Madfall’s claws dug easily into the dense rock. His long, sinuous body curled over the promontory, his tail hanging down over the 500-foot drop into the sea. He backed up, lowering his body over the side of the cliff face until he was out of sight of the castle, and then let himself drop. Sea air rushed up to meet him as he tumbled backwards. He closed his eyes and let his wings unfurl. They caught the air with a sharp snick, jerking him upwards. His body twisted gracefully and wheeled round the sea cliffs that encircled the castle. It took the girl precisely eleven minutes to reach the inner courtyard. There she would wait by the castle door until the rest of the young women walking into town had assembled. While still inside the castle walls, the girls were off their guard.
Madfall chuckled as his wings beat the air, lifting him up to the level of the castle, and then over the high castle wall. A man stationed on the battlement called out, “Dragon!” But the warning was too late. Madfall spotted a young woman in the courtyard, a large basket at her feet. He swooped while the alarm was still being sounded and grabbed the basket in his hind claws. The young woman screamed.
Madfall smirked as he sped upwards at breakneck speed, bursting through the cloud cover that hung low in the sky. The idiots on the wall hadn’t even had time to put an arrow to their bows. He had been in sight for less than thirty seconds.
Turning in the air, he winged his way home. Today he swept over the large dark forest that curved around the southern border of the capital city. He dipped low, until the tips of his claws almost brushed the topmost branches, leaves ruffling in the wake of his beating wings. From the lookout towers of the castle, his black scales would be hard to make out against the inky forest.
After a few miles he dropped into the forest itself, the bulk of his long body winding sinuously between the trees. He tucked his wings in and awkwardly moved the basket of gold to one front foot. He crept along the land, moving to the east. When he was sure his trail would be cold from the sky, Madfall took to the air again.
Every time he attacked a human settlement, Madfall made sure to approach his home from a new angle. As far as he knew, the humans still had no idea where he kept his hoard—and he planned to keep it that way. There were a thousand young men in the country who would gladly take the chance to storm his lair, their heads turned by the promise of wealth and valor.