Authors: Kathi S. Barton
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
World Castle Publishing, LLC
Copyright © Kathi S. Barton 2015
Hardback ISBN: 9781629892856
Print ISBN: 9781629892863
eBook ISBN: 9781629892870
First Edition World Castle Publishing, LLC, June 26, 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
Cover: Karen Fuller
Editor: Eric Johnston
Editor: Maxine Bringenberg
Anthony waited in his chambers for the man to be brought to him. He wanted to…well what he wanted to do, very badly, was not going to happen until he was sure that things were taken care of here. And that was what he was waiting on Elbert to help him with. He looked back at the painting on the wall and felt his heart break again. She was gone; his lovely wife was gone from this world, and he’d be joining her very soon if things went the way the course was taking.
“Sire? He’s here.” Anthony nodded and asked to have him shown to the throne room. “I will, sire. And the young woman is here as well. I have shown her to the sitting room until you are ready for her.” Elbert, his ever faithful servant, bowed as he left him there.
Anthony made his way to the young man as soon as he was able to stand on his own two feet. Jacob was his only hope…his last hope that his family line would continue. As he entered the room, he pulled his magic around the two of them tightly, not wanting anyone to hear this conversation. Jacob was kneeling before the chair that Anthony’s wife had sat in not hours before when all hell had broken loose. Anthony spoke to the man now kneeling before him.
“I should like to ask you a favor, please. It is more than any man should ask of another, but—”
“Anything, my lord.” Anthony actually smiled. He’d expected no less from the man. “You have done more for me and my family than anyone has done for us before. I will be here to serve you for as long as I live.”
“You might want to think about this before you say yes, Jacob. What I ask of you is more…it is more than asking you to raise your arms up for me or to put in a bigger crop. This is a matter of life and death for so many people; our linage, mine and yours as well.” Anthony asked him to come closer to him so that they may speak.
“Sir?” Jacob looked up, then back at the floor before continuing. “Sir, you wish for me to come to you? Up there? I don’t think that is the way things should go, sir. No matter the favor you ask of me.”
“I do. I wish for no one to hear what we are speaking about. And should you come closer, I can tighten my magic around us so that no one will.” Jacob got up but he moved like a man who was going to the gallows. “I swear to you, Jacob, if you tell me no for the task that I ask of you, I will treat you no differently.” There would be no time, he wanted to add, but he didn’t. There was no reason to frighten him anymore.
“Perhaps you should tell me then.” Anthony smiled again; his face, unused to the movement, ached just a little. His heart was simply too heavy for happiness. “But should you need me to do either of those things, you have but to ask me.”
“I know that.” Where to begin, he thought. At the beginning. “You know what I am, do you not? I mean, you know that I am not human?”
“I do.” Jacob made it sound as if he was silly for asking him. “I believe I have seen you and your wife flying over my crops on more than one occasion. My mother, rest her soul, told us of how you were a fierce person both as a man and beast.”
“She would know.” Thinking of Jacob’s mother, he knew now why the man was as good as he was. “I should like for you to marry.”
That got the younger man’s attention. “Marry, sir? While I would love to have a wife and children, I have no means to marry. A wife would wish her husband to be able to plant a crop without fear of it being their last, a home that did not leak on her pies, and an oven that did not smoke more than my grandmother did. I have no money, sir, to marry.”
“I have such a woman for you. One that will be beside you no matter your house problems. But that will no longer be an issue for you either. I mean to pay you.” Jacob said he had no desire to marry for money. “No, I don’t mean that. I mean for you to be paid to do a job for me. But you will need a wife to make it…I’m not explaining this very well. Let me being again.”
Anthony thought of his own wife, cold below the ground near their children. And the things that she’d done to protect them from the men who had killed her. He needed Jacob and young Sally to help them more than he would ever be able to.
“My wife…my wife has been killed.” Jacob looked shocked and told him how sorry he was. “She died keeping our young from harm. From the very men who will come here soon to kill me as well.”
“You wish for me to protect you. I shall do my best, sir. I cannot lift a sword like your men, but I can try. I will die trying.” Anthony shook his head. “Sir?”
“I need for you and Sally, the woman I have chosen for you, to wed. In doing so, you will sire six sons with her. Each of them will be strong and brave and will help me with my own.” Jacob sat down now, his curiosity piqued. “I have six unborn children hidden away. Each son you have, one of my own children will come to. They will be a part of them throughout their lives together. Their lives will be long and great, too.”
The door to the chamber was pressed against, and Anthony knew that men were just on the other side. His time was running short. When Jacob stood up and drew his knife, Anthony knew that this man had given him hope where it had not been before.
“I have little time, so listen to me. Sally awaits you in the other room. Elbert will come to stay with you for your life, then remain to care for your sons when they grow. My children will…they will protect your sons as your sons will protect them. Sally has her own magic to give them that will keep them hidden from men like those that are going to kill me. Your job is to raise them up for me. Raise them to be good men and dragons that I would be proud to call my own.” Elbert came to him then, the girl he’d chosen for Jacob with him. “Go with her. Elbert will have all you need to be safe and your home cared for.”
The door nearly gave way, and he knew it wouldn’t hold much longer. Standing up, he nearly shoved the man to his servant and wished them luck. Anthony let his beast take him as soon as his hope for the future was out of sight.
His dragon had been wounded earlier today while he had tried to protect his wife. Now they had come to finish the job, and Anthony was almost ready for them to do so. His children were safe. That was all that mattered for now.
As the men came through the door, their swords raised against him and their fire burning whatever it touched behind them, Anthony sent the last of his magic to his children and told them that he loved them. Then he fought for his own life if only to give their hope, the hope of all their lives, a little more time.
It was over soon, sooner than he’d thought. But he’d lost so much blood, and without his own magic to allow him to fly away, he was hurt over and over until he nearly fell atop those that he’d not managed to kill. And he had killed a great number of them.
The man with the sword came at him, but Anthony had no more strength to move away from the blade as it entered his chest and pierced his heart. As he fell forward, his hot breath killing the last of them, including the man that had taken his life, Anthony knew that all was not lost.
Jacob held the woman’s hand as they ran from the castle. They ran and ran, not even stopping for fallen trees and brambles. He was afraid for them, all of them, having seen the men with the army behind them storming the gate. The king would not be able to keep them at bay for long. He’d known the man was hurt by the blood stain that ran down his chest to his lap.
“I have to rest.” He nodded and stopped running to allow Sally to sit on a stump. They’d been running for over an hour, he thought, just running in a direction away from the castle and his home. Jacob looked around and found a few berries to pick and an apple for her. He brought them to the woman. She was holding a tumbler of water when he returned.
“I have magic, did you know that?” Elbert shook his head, then nodded. Her laughter made him think of a spring morning before the dew burned off. “The king wished to ask a favor of me. Did he you as well?”
“He asked me to marry you. Said that we’d have children together. Six sons.” She nodded and didn’t look the least bit surprised by what he’d said. “I have nothing for us. I told him I barely have a house, but he seemed to think it mattered little.”
“It doesn’t. Not to me. I can make a fire on the ground if need be. You have shown that you can provide for us today. And you have kept me safe from those men. Men who I’m sure have killed our king.” He told her that the queen was dead. “I felt her death as if it were my own. The same men killed her that are now dead in the burning castle.”
“He has provided for you both.” They looked at the man who had run out with them. Elbert nodded in the direction they were headed. “Ahead, about another day’s walk, we will come to a place that is yours. It will provide for you both, and the children you shall have.”
“We will live there? For our lives?” Jacob looked at Sally, thinking it was a strange way to word the question. “Or will we sire children only to be put out?”
“Nay, my lady. It will be yours and that of your children when you pass. I will care for them as my own when your time comes. But I assure you, it will be a long while yet. You will not see children of your children born, but you will watch your own grow into men.” Elbert took a large satchel from his shirt. “He gave me this to give to you. Should he not have…he knew his time was short, so he had me write what he said. They were coming for him even as he was dying.”
“Why?” Jacob sat down, weary himself now. “He was a good king—strong—and kept us safe. He and his wife provided for us and never took more than we could give. Why would they kill them?”
“Because they are human. People…men who have no strength of their own will kill things that they do not understand. The same will be true for your sons someday, I fear.” Jacob took the book handed to him and passed it to Sally. He could not read and hoped that she could. “Once you are wed—and I will do the deed for you—things will come to you that you never would have imagined. Beyond the wealth that he has given you, but magic as well. You will need it to protect your children as well as his.”
“Why did he choose us?” Jacob nodded. It was a good question from Sally, but Elbert asked if they could walk while he told them. “I would also like to know if we will have daughters too.”
“I know not of the other children you will sire. I am sorry. There was no time for much in the way of smaller details.” Elbert flushed. “When he gave me this, he lay bleeding, mourning the loss of his wife. But in answer to your question as to why he chose you? It is because you have hearts as pure as the first breath of a child. The wisdom to know right from wrong and stand by it. And he said that he’d never met two people more suited to each other than you. He was quite pleased that you’d remained unmarried until now.”
They walked for the rest of the late day. It wasn’t until the moon was nearly over their heads that they finally laid down for the night. Jacob laid out his worn jacket for Sally to lie upon, and went to the woods to find things for their fire for the night. He was just coming back when he turned and saw a creature standing on all fours watching over his Sally.
“I am a watcher…what you might call a dog or canine, I suppose.” Elbert’s voice came from the large Rottweiler sort of creature, and when he turned to look at him, Jacob could see that it was indeed him. “I neither sleep nor eat, young Jacob, but will protect what is in my care. You rest now.”
Jacob nodded and moved back to where he’d left Sally. She was lying on the coat, but she was awake. He sat beside her on the cold ground and began stacking the logs for in the morning. She put her hand over his, and he looked at her.
“Are you not happy with our being together, Jacob?” He told her that he had no idea. Her smile made him smile. “You are very honest, aren’t you?”
“I see no reason to lie to you. And I won’t.” She nodded. “Elbert. He’s watching us. He’s not human, did you know that?”
“Yes.” She lay down and patted the place beside her, and he lay with her. “Neither am I; did you know that?”
“He said that you had magic.” Jacob put his hand over hers when she put it over his heart. “I will make you happy, I think. I will hope so anyway.”
“You have already done so.” Jacob looked at her and asked her how. “By not running and screaming into the night when you came upon my father.”
It took him several moments to realize she’d meant Elbert. “You are like him? A watcher? I like him, by the way.”
“I’m more of my mother. She was magical and my father is as well. We will not live as long as they did, but a long time. Our children will live forever so long as their dragon is safe. Did you read the book that was given to us?” He told her that he couldn’t read. “Then I shall teach you. But the book says that our children will be coupled with the dragon on the day that they are born. Once they are together, nothing but death will separate them. And even that bond might be too strong to break then. But they will need each other in ways that we can never understand. It says that their duty is to keep the weak and the overwrought from being killed. That all creatures, human or not, will need them.”
She spoke through the night, telling him what she’d read and some of the things that she knew. He listened to her, her voice soothing even when she told him of the trials they’d be put through, raising the children together with dragons. Jacob asked her what he could think of, and when the sun came up over the mountain, he got up from their bed and gathered more wood to start their day. Elbert brought them a skinned rabbit.
After they broke their fast, they started for their new home and new lives. Elbert told them that since they had lain together, he would consider them man and wife. And should anyone ask, they had just married recently.