Authors: E. D. Baker
Books by E. D. Baker
ALES OF THE
Book Seven in
the Tales of the Frog Princess
E. D. BAKER
Copyright © 2009 by E. D. Baker
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced
in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher,
except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Published by Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Baker, E. D.
Dragon kiss / by E. D. Baker.—1st U.S. ed.
p. cm.—(Tales of the frog princess ; bk. 7)
Summary: Despite obstacles, an ice dragon named Audun pursues the love
of his life—a human girl who can transform into a dragon using magic.
[1. Fairy tales. 2. Dragons—Fiction. 3. Love—Fiction. 4. Courtship—Fiction. 5. Human-
animal relationships—Fiction. 6. Magic—Fiction. 7. Humorous stories.] I. Title.
PZ8.B173Dn2009 [Fic]—dc22 2008055131
First U.S. Edition 2009
Typeset by Westchester Book Composition
Printed in the U.S.A. by Quebecor World Fairfield
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
All papers used by Bloomsbury U.S.A. are natural, recyclable products
made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing processes
conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
This book is dedicated to Ellie, my first reader and a
marvelous author in her own right; to Kim, my horse
expert and the one who makes my Web site possible;
to Victoria, from whom I’ve learned so much;
and to my wonderful fans, who are so encouraging.
hat do you mean, you’re going after that girl?” demanded Audun’s grandmother. She set the sack she’d been carrying beside the pile of the family’s belongings waiting at the mouth of the cave and turned to look at the fifteen-year-old dragon. “You know she’s really a human!”
Audun looked at her in surprise. After everything that Millie had done for them, he hadn’t expected anyone to object to his plans.
“I thought all of you liked her,” he said, glancing from his grandmother to the rest of his family.
“We do,” said his mother while his father nodded. His grandfather just shrugged and looked apologetic.
“Liking her has nothing to do with this,” his grandmother, Song of the Glacier, replied.
“You can’t have forgotten that she saved our lives!” protested Audun.
“We know what she did,” said his grandmother. “And we appreciate it, but that doesn’t change the fact that she isn’t a dragon. Just because she has magic doesn’t make her one of us.”
Audun shook his head. “I don’t understand why that’s a problem. I mean, I’ve heard about dragons that can change into humans. What’s wrong with a human who can turn into a dragon?”
“I’m not arguing with you about this, Audun,” said the elderly dragoness, “and I’m not giving you my permission to run after that girl like some lovesick albatross. Now go help your grandfather gather the rest of the sacks. We’ll be leaving in a few minutes.”
“Then you’ll be going without me,” Audun declared. “I love Millie and I don’t want to live my life without her!”
Audun’s mother, Moon Dancer, gasped and gave her son a horrified look. In the dragon world the elderly were revered, especially the dragonesses; no one ever talked back to them.
“I can’t believe you spoke to your grandmother that way!” exclaimed Audun’s father, Speedwell. “Please accept his apology, Mother. He’s young and foolish.”
Dragons were honest at heart and found it nearly impossible to lie. Once in a while, however, Audun wished that he could lie, just a little. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, Grandmother,” said Audun, “but I can’t apologize when I don’t mean it.” He stepped to the ledge that fronted the cave they called home and turned to look at her once more. “I just wanted to tell you where I was going before I left. I thought you would understand, but I guess I was wrong. Safe travels.” When Song didn’t respond with a similar farewell, Audun spread his wings and leaped into the frigid mountain air.
He tried not to look back, but he couldn’t help himself. Swooping one last time around the mountain-ringed valley, Audun glanced down at the ledge as he worked to gain altitude. Only his parents had remained outside to watch him go. Seeing the sad curve of their necks even from a distance made him wonder, for just a moment, if he was doing the right thing. But then he thought of Millie and how much she meant to him. She had left only the day before, yet it already seemed like an eternity. His parents would understand with time; it was Millie he had to go see now.
Since the hour he was hatched, the only time Audun had been separated from his family for longer than a few days was when they were trapped in the walls of a witch’s ice castle. It was Millie who had set them free. Audun had been fascinated by the lovely green dragon from the moment he first saw her, and had fallen in love when he discovered how sweet and good and brave she was, despite the fact that she was really a human. Dragons often fell in love at first sight. His parents had done it and so had the parents of some of his friends. It was usually with someone the dragon king had chosen for them, but it was true love, regardless. However it happened, once dragons fell in love, it was for the rest of their lives.
Audun’s grandmother often accused him of acting without thinking first. He admitted to himself that he might have been hasty in leaving his family the way he had, but he already knew that Millie was right for him. It was true that she was a human part of the time and a dragon only when her magic changed her, but she was the most beautiful human Audun had ever seen and she wasn’t at all what he’d expected of a creature with only two feet. Brought up to believe that humans lied, cheated, stole, and thought only of themselves, he’d been delighted to meet Millie, who was as honest as a dragon and even more caring.
Audun was certain that all he had to do was encourage Millie and his grandmother to spend some time together and the two of them would get along. Two such wonderful females would have to like each other, wouldn’t they?
Dragons have an unerring sense of direction, and more acute senses than humans, especially their vision and sense of smell, so it wasn’t hard for Audun to locate Millie’s trail. Every dragon’s scent was unique, but Millie’s was more unusual than most. Part smoky musk of a dragon and part flavorful undertones of a human, her scent varied according to whatever form she was in. Because she’d been a dragon when she flew south, Audun smelled more of her dragon than of her human scent.
Starting out the day before would have been better for tracking her scent on the air currents between the mountains, but he hadn’t wanted to leave without spending some time with his family after their experience in the witch’s castle. Audun’s long neck wove from side to side as he followed Millie’s scent between the mountains and over the pass leading to the foothills beyond. He circled above a large outcropping of rock where he thought he detected the smell she’d given off when she was a human, but the scent was old and the storm that had scoured the mountains the day after Millie arrived had nearly erased it. A short distance away he spotted a snow leopard, which ran in fear at Audun’s approaching shadow.
Picking up her dragon odor again, he followed it above the foothills and across the lush forests and rolling grasslands that made up much of the Kingdom of Bull-rush. The countryside was lovely, although Audun preferred the glittering ice and pristine snow of the Icy North. The air was warmer here, too, and uncomfortable for a dragon from a land where the ice never thawed and the snow never melted. When Audun noticed a river flowing beneath him, he didn’t think twice about landing at the water’s edge.
Drawing his wings to his sides, he curved his neck to the river and hunched down to gulp gallon after gallon of cool, fresh water. He closed his eyes in pleasure, dunking his head until he was submerged all the way to his shoulders, and didn’t open his eyes until a change in the current told him that something large was close by.
A pale face with wide-open, staring eyes engulfed in a cloud of some sort of green weed drifted toward him. Audun jerked his head back, certain it was a drowned human. Although he didn’t want to touch it, he thought he should take it out of the water in case someone was looking for it. The current was carrying it past quickly, so he grimaced with distaste and reached out with one clawed foot, pulling it from the river to the soft mud of the shore.
Audun jumped back in surprise when the body jumped to its feet and shouted, “What do you think you’re doing, you brute?”
“Sorry!” said Audun. “I thought you were dead.”
“How dare you!” exclaimed the young woman, flicking the dripping strands of her long, green hair over her shoulder. “That has to be the rudest thing anyone has ever said to me!”
Audun didn’t know what to do when the woman hurled a clump of mud at him before bursting into tears.
“I know I’ve been looking a little pasty lately and I have taken to floating aimlessly, but still . . .”
“I said I was sorry,” said Audun. “I don’t know very many humans. I’ve never seen one with green hair before and the way you were staring at me—”
The woman stopped crying to give him a nasty look. “Haven’t you insulted me enough already? I’m not a lowly, smelly human. I’m a water nymph and this is my river!”
“I didn’t realize . . .”
“It’s not your fault. I haven’t been myself ever since that horrible troll ate two of my favorite fish. What is the world coming to? Trolls stomping across river bottoms, stirring up my nice silt and polluting my lovely, clean water with their awful stench as they devour my little darlings! Then humans clutter my riverbank with rafts . . .”
Audun didn’t hear the rest of the nymph’s complaints once she gestured to a raft lying on the shore only a dozen yards upriver. Raising his head to sniff, the dragon smiled as he recognized Millie’s human scent. He was sure he would have noticed it sooner if he hadn’t been so distracted. The nymph was still talking when he turned away and trotted to the raft. Although the logs were old and battered, the vine holding them together looked fresh.
Audun bent down to give the raft a thorough sniff, paying special attention to the side Millie had touched. He also found the scent of the boy, Francis, as well as that of the obnoxious troll. The nymph was right about the troll’s stench.
“I’ve been talking to you!” shrilled the nymph, who had followed him to the raft.
“Right . . . ,” Audun replied, still not paying attention to her. He was pleased to have found the raft. It was a connection to Millie, something she had touched and used. “I’ve got to go,” he said, as he spread his wings. Although he’d known he was on the right track, it was good to have the knowledge confirmed. She seemed that much closer now; his search might almost be over.
Audun took to the air and recaptured Millie’s dragon scent. It took him across the river to a land of scrubby grass and rolling hills that grew taller with each passing mile until they became mountains. These were different from the mountains that he was used to; they weren’t as high, and there was snow only on the tops of the very tallest, but even there the air flowing past them seemed warm and gentle.
He almost lost the scent at times, and had to cast back and forth for it, but when he reached one of the mountains farthest to the south it became so strong that it seemed to fill his nostrils. Following the curve of the mountainside, Audun began to see signs of humans: a rough path zigzagged down the side of the mountain, following its contours to a village on one side, and a castle perched on a pinnacle of rock on the other. Millie’s scent was strongest near the castle, both as a human and as a dragon, so he descended, hoping to see her.
He was flying over one of the squat, sturdy towers when a shout went up and arrows began to whiz past him. Dodging the arrows was easy at first, but then the archers’ assault intensified and he had to fly higher to get out of range.
“Millie!” he roared, turning this way and that as he struggled to avoid the flood of arrows. “Millie, are you there?”
A figure seated on a broom shot from the top of the tower, and Audun was certain that it was Millie. But then another figure joined it and the two of them steered their brooms toward Audun. They were talking to each other as they flew and he could hear what they were saying even before they reached him.
“Hey, Ratinki! Will you look at that!” said the younger of the two witches in a voice so loud that Audun thought they could probably hear her back in the castle. “I’ve never seen a white dragon before. Have you?”
The old witch shook her head and replied in a raspy voice, “Nope. He’s a good looker, though. I wonder what he wants with our Millie.”
“He was calling her name. He must want to talk to her,” said the younger witch.
Ratinki looked exasperated. “You’re such a ninny-head, Klorine! Of course he wants to talk to her. Maybe we can find out why.” Using one hand to shade her eyes from the sun, the old witch shouted, “You there!” and flew higher until she was facing Audun. “What do you want with Millie? None of your dragon tricks now. We’re powerful witches and can turn you into a flea in the blink of an eye.”
“I just need to see her. Is she here?”
“Maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. We’re not telling you a thing until you tell us why you want her. Go on, you can tell us. We’re friends of the family.”
“I’m not telling you anything,” said Audun. “It’s personal.”
Klorine eyed him as she flew up to join them. “She met you on her adventure, didn’t she? We were dying of curiosity, but she wasn’t here long enough to tell us anything. Her parents whisked her away right after she got back.”