Captain Jisten is a man divided. Honor, on the one hand, and love, on the other. It’s difficult to balance the needs of his partner, S’Rak, and the needs of the prince he serves. It doesn’t help that the prince is acting oddly and growing increasingly jealous of the time his captain spends with the high priest. But then Jisten is drawn into the dark world of S’Rak’s past, where he is forced to confront his deepest fears. Racial pride and heritage war with his need for sanity and decency.
Will Jisten learn to accept S’Rak for who he is and face his internal demons, or will he withdraw behind the shield of duty and abandon the man he loves?
“The Valers teach that at the birth of a Loftoni, the dragon egg hatches and the two newborns are cradled together,” said Jisten. “The baby dragon keeps the infant warm.”
Rak choked on his café. “I assure you, I was born, not hatched.”
“What?” asked Jisten, perplexed. “I said the Loftoni was born and the dragon hatches.”
“Uhm. The hatchling dragon requires a lot of care and attention.” Rak mopped up the snorted café.
“Are you saying that’s wrong?” Jisten looked interested. “What does happen then?”
“The baby is born in the usual human style,” said Rak dryly. “It is fussed over by far too many relatives, shown off to half the temple, and then everyone settles back down.”
“And the dragon baby?” Jisten pressed. “Isn’t everyone fussing over it as well?”
“A clutch of dragon eggs is tended to by the dragon parents, and their riders, and any other hapless souls they can commandeer. When the eggs hatch, every Loftoni in the area arrives, the hatchlings are fed, and cleaned, and fed, and oiled, and fed. Did I mention that they are fed? Eventually we get them to curl up under their mother’s wings with only hourly snacks.”
“Then how are the infant and the baby dragon put together then? When is the hatchling given to the baby?”
“They are not put together,” Rak said in a mystified tone. “How can that be? How much free will can an infant display?”
“Free will? The Loftoni and dragon are bonded,” Jisten said. “They love and cherish each other for life. I’m not sure how free will plays into it.”
“We have no way of knowing which dragonling the gods have intended for which baby,” Rak said, glad for a topic that took his mind away from the pain. “The dragon and the Loftoni do not normally bond until after the Loftoni’s wings have emerged. And they do not have to bond. It is a choice they must make together, at puberty, or thereabouts.”
“If they don’t bond,” Jisten asked, “is that what makes some dragons go wild and eat virgins?”
Rak snorted more café. “Have you been speaking to Scorth?” he accused once he could breathe again.
“There are tales, among non-Valers of course, of dragons ravaging villages until they are given a virgin to eat. Valers think it’s nonsense, but it sounds like we have our own misconceptions.”
“I haven’t eaten a virgin in at least a month,” Scorth said. “And I am partial to green ones.”
“Green virgins?” Jisten asked in confusion.
“No, not green virgins. That would not only be disgusting, they would taste horrible. Green dragons,” Scorth replied. “Since you brought the subject up.”
Rak gave Scorth a look which the black man ignored. Jisten grinned at the dragon.
Rak wondered if it was safe to finish his café. He’d already snorted it twice in a remarkably short period of time. “There are wild dragons. Those that have yet to find their rider, those that lost their rider before they ever bonded, and those that chose not to bond. Dragons, as sarcastic as they are, do not require virgin sacrifices. They might take the virgin, just to tweak the villagers, and let her go in some other place.” Rak eyed Jisten with great caution as he sipped the café again.
“So I suppose the tale of the Loftoni and dragon losing their virginity with their respective mates at the same time is untrue as well,” Jisten said with his usual shyness about anything sexual.