Authors: D'Elen McClain
Bastian’s words only frustrate me further. “I’m not destined for a mate, Bastian. My uncle caused the curse and I shall pay for his sins until one-hundred thousand years has passed. Wishing it different changes nothing.”
“You are fucking wrong,” Bastian thunders and shoots flames from his great mouth.
I would laugh if my life were not so sad. I lower my voice and try to calm his beast. “Thank you for the time with Ashrac. It helps. I will be okay. Maybe Laryn and Roxy will host cards this month and we can get together like old times.”
Bastian snorts. The fire is gone and only smoke trails from his nostrils. “Not likely. Roxy is ready to slice off all body parts that get near her egg. Acasia is the only dragon she will allow within their castle right now. I will be relieved in a few months when the child is born.”
I can’t stop a sudden laugh and shoot fire in front of us. It feels good to laugh. I need more humor in my life. My heartache weighing me down pushes back just a bit. I would love to see the egg, but I’m unwilling to lose body parts to do it. Bastian’s laughter joins mine as we dodge the other’s flames.
After an hour of soaring through Bastian’s territory, I say goodbye and head back to my castle for another lonely night with little sleep. The solitary flight home brings out the feelings that I ran from earlier. The visit was only a short-term escape. I roll so I’m flying upside down and I dream of hearing the forever silenced echo of Meagan’s gentle laugh. She’d stand at my bedroom window and watch my antics for hours. Thoughts of Meagan lead to thoughts of Pepper and I wonder what punishment was handed out. Whatever it was, she deserved it. Humans need to know their place.
One month later…
My body shakes so hard my teeth rattle. I can’t get warm and don’t remember being warm for so long now. I’ve been in this dark cold room for weeks and much of that time I’ve had a fever.
The night my world changed, Henry and another man came and took me from my bed about an hour after Tahr warned me of the punishment. I wasn’t asleep when they arrived and I was almost relieved to find out so quickly what my penance would be. The relief faded after a few days with nothing but straw on a cold floor. Well, two buckets in the corner—one with water and one for waste. Tears ran down Henry’s face as they escorted me here. I shudder with another chill and feel heartache over what he was made to do.
I’ve been fed regularly, but two days ago my illness took away all desire for food. I hear mice skittering around as they enjoy the last tray that was slid under the door. This tiny cell has become a living nightmare. I won’t survive much longer and I’ve made my peace.
Henry hasn’t checked on me for several days. He usually opens the door, peers inside, and quickly closes it. I know it upsets him to see me in here. If it wasn’t for the slide of the tray when food is delivered I would think he has completely forgotten me. I’m sure the stench of the room is what keeps Henry from entering. A sob rumbles up from my chest and I inhale a painful breath trying to hold it back. The putrid smell of my body on top of the odor coming from the waste bucket makes me gag. Tears fall… so many tears. I just want to die and get it over with.
I shakily lift my hand to my head; I miss my headpiece. I smooth my fingers across my bare scalp as my thoughts grow fuzzy. Different memories in my life flash through my mind. Taking Meagan’s hand for the first time at my mother’s encouragement. Seeing the large man standing beside her and thinking how pretty he was. Hearing my mother’s soft cries as they led me out to their car. Being afraid, but feeling so sick and weak from my illness that I couldn’t stop them. I held Meagan’s hand tightly as she whispered that I would feel better soon.
My mind jumps to the intense pain when the man with silver eyes held me tightly to his chest and we crossed into another realm. Meagan assuring me all the pain is almost over. Then it’s gone and I’m handed off to Meagan. She comforts me and explains that I will no longer speak. Something ripples through my body and a dragon stands over us. Even Meagan’s soft assurances don’t keep my mouth from opening in silent screams. Then his voice fluttering through my mind… “Sleep.”
I came to in a new bed and a different world. Meagan visited me often and assigned Betty to care for me. I loved the days when Meagan would take me to her tower and read to me while sunlight came through the window and lit up the room. In the beginning, I missed voices in the human part of the castle. I missed my parents too. I latched onto Meagan and the comfort I felt while sitting in her room. When Tahr entered, she would take me back to the children’s ward and hand me off to Betty. At first I resented the dragon for his intrusion. As the years went by, Meagan explained how much she loved him. I also noticed the way he looked at her. His eyes would shine and the tight lines around his mouth would soften. And his dimple. I wanted to touch it so badly. While still quite young, I became enthralled with his dragon form. I snuck around constantly just to get a peek of him.
When she wasn’t entertaining her dragon, Meagan taught me and the other children to communicate with our hands. The adults weren’t so accepting. For some reason they settled comfortably into their inability to speak. There were a few, like Betty, who grudgingly learned the hand signs, though the majority stubbornly refused. I was Meagan’s most eager pupil.
It was wonderful to be understood. She also taught me to read and write. I was able to borrow books from the large library located near Meagan’s room. I read them slowly at first and then as my reading improved, I devoured everything I could get my hands on. For weeks I wanted to be a Musketeer, then the queen of a far off kingdom. When I was around ten years old, Meagan held my hand as we walked outside and she spoke of her life before the dragon. She told me the fond memories of her days in her original home village. While she spoke, a dark shadow came from above and I looked up. Tahr was keeping pace as we walked. His mighty wings slowly lifted and lowered. Meagan became agitated, which was abnormal for her. “Go away, dragon, I’m still angry with you.”
Tahr shot forward, his silver scales catching the sunlight and reflecting a brilliant sheen of color around him. He rose higher and looped upside down above us. Meagan laughed softly. “He’s being a showoff, but he will need to do more than that before I forgive him.”
She had no fear of his anger and I felt pride to have her as a friend. I watched him fly and my strange dreams of wanting to be anyone but who I was were replaced by a single revelation—I wanted to be a dragon. After that incident, the thoughts of becoming a dragon consumed me day and night.
When I was a teenager, Meagan told me of the curse. She also explained how she came to finally love the dragon after he stole her from everything she knew. She wistfully said that one day a very lucky woman would be Tahr’s mate, transcend, and fly by his side forever. I lived by those words. It didn’t matter that the lucky woman needed to be a chosen bride; my imagination built a different story. One where I became a dragon. The mate stuff, not so much. I wanted Tahr but at the time I wasn’t fully aware of what that meant. I wanted my own castle and land to control. It all changed when he held my hand and took me across through the realm. That’s when my fantasies changed and my body betrayed me.
I cough as another round of shivers rack my body. It doesn’t stop the memories from filling my mind. Meagan’s smile and her love for life. Meagan so frail at the end. Her cold, shaky hand on mine when she asked for my promise to look after Tahr. She cared nothing about the pain—only cared about her beloved dragon.
After her death, I began sneaking around Tahr’s rooms as I had when I was younger. I told myself it was only to check up on him in order to keep my promise. That was a lie. I craved being near him even though I knew my feelings were wrong and could get me in trouble.
It hurt so bad to see his sorrow while the heavy weight of his suffering swirled around his rooms. Tahr, so lost in pain, didn’t notice me. I constantly fought the urge to touch him and give my presence away. That’s why I touched him while he slept. I needed the connection we shared. Deep in my heart, I thought our combined energy could heal him.
My memories jump again—sadness that Tahr would do this to me. Anger with Meagan for the damn promise she had me make. Then remorse because I would be here even without the promise. Nothing would keep me away. I shut these feelings down and let my mind float to the night I was taken from my room. The large disturbed eyes of the women as they watched me being taken away. Betty wringing her hands and silently crying. My friends could do nothing. No punishment like this had ever been handed down.
I need Betty’s comfort so badly. In my imagination, I can almost feel her soft breasts against my cheek. She held me that way when Meagan died. Poor Meagan. Poor Betty. She must be beyond distraught over what happened to me. I will not see her again and never be able to thank her for all the love she’s given me. And my friends. No… family. I owe them so much. They were never jealous of my time spent with Meagan. I made her happy. That made the dragon happy and his humans happy too.
I cough again and can’t seem to draw air into my lungs. When the fit passes, I’m completely worn out. My chest and throat hurt with violent trembles racking my body and causing additional ache. “Meagan.” I whisper silently in my head. I swear I can feel her finger slide over my cheek. No. It’s a mouse and I’m too exhausted to shoo it away. I laugh silently. I’m quiet as a mouse. Oh little mouse, in a very short time you and your friends will have a feast. But I’m not dead yet. The laughter in my head is a little crazier now.
I think I open my eyes as a small glow appears above me. I must be dreaming. The light expands until a beautiful woman is standing in the center of the light. Now I’m sure this is a dream. She’s breathtaking and surrounded by changing colors. Her lips don’t move but her voice drifts through my mind. “
Do not give up. You have the heart of a dragon and you must fight to live.
Her words are ridiculous. The woman fades and the room goes dark once more. I don’t think I’m dreaming now, but it could be my mind playing tricks. Shame swallows me because of my deception of Meagan. I loved her dragon. “Meagan, I’m sorry…”
You must fight to live.
Whispers through my mind again. My thoughts go quiet as darkness takes me away.
Meagan, I’m sorry
,” the soft whisper wakes me.
“What the hell,” I mutter into the semi-dark room as I look around for the person who spoke. I roll over and of course Meagan isn’t there. The voice was so real—husky and melodic at the same time. Maybe I’m losing my mind. I laugh and the sound echoes off the walls. It’s been a month since my visit to Bastian’s lair. I need to go there again. Occasionally, I fly around my territory, but it doesn’t relieve the loneliness as much as I would like. Seven months without Meagan and now I’m hearing damned voices.
For some reason, Pepper enters my mind. I’ve seen no sign of her since I told Henry to keep her away from me. I’m hoping she’s been put on laundry duty and too tired to sneak through my chambers. Whatever her punishment, a month is probably long enough for her to suffer. I’m sure she’s learned her lesson by now. I hate to admit that I actually miss the scurrying glimpses I caught every so often.
Since the night I banished Pepper from these rooms, my humans have acted unusual. They are not laughing or smiling like they normally do. Their eyes shy away and I find it irritating. No, I don’t often have a call to punish anyone or at least they have no memory of such. They don’t recall the time before Meagan. She added comfort to their lives and reined in my harsh ways. Not that I was ever horrible, I just seldom thought of them or their comfort. When I wanted something, I shouted. Meagan put a stop to that. She changed me for the better, if not my humans. They are now unruly when I desperately need their smiles.
“Henry, I have need of you,” I cast into his mind. It’s after midnight and I don’t care that I’m waking him up. I have a question.
Henry arrives and for some reason his glassy, hard stare annoys me. I’ve never thought of him like this before. He’s here to serve me and I shouldn’t care what he thinks of his duty.
I don’t bother leaving my bed. “The girl… or I guess woman, Pepper, where is she?” I ask after lighting a candle on the nightstand so he can see me.
His eyes grow large, but he offers no response. I wait impatiently for him to make some gesture, but he only shrugs his shoulders. That pisses me off. Laundry or kitchen is not that hard to pantomime and at this hour neither is sleeping, if that’s where she is.
“Is she in her room?” Henry’s eyes grow larger still and I would swear my question scares him. My voice grows louder and reflects my rising anger. “Do you know where she is?” I ask in complete vexation. This question requires only a simple shake or nod of his head.
Henry hesitates before giving me a short precise nod.
For the love of the Goddess. “Take me to her this instant.” I have no idea why I have the sudden need to check on the woman. I shouldn’t care.
I climb out of bed and follow Henry’s retreating back. He walks rapidly down the stairs of my sleeping tower, across the courtyard, and into the human tower. I expect him to go up the winding stairs, but he heads toward a door that leads down to the cellars. I step into the cold and gloomy passage that leads to another set of stairs. I haven’t been to the underground level of the castle in many years. I know food supplies are stored here, but other than that, I’m unaware that the dungeons are in use.
Henry lights a torch and begins his descent into the lower bowels. The niggling feeling in my gut expands. Why would she be down here?
After we reach the bottom, Henry walks down a long hallway. The smell of human waste hits my nostrils and my gut twists. He stops at the door at the end of the hall. There’s a large piece of wood securing the entry.
“She’s in there?” I hiss as I push back the fire rising in my throat.
Henry’s head is lowered as he gives a slight nod. I see red and grab his shoulders lifting him from the ground. “I would suggest you stay out of my sight. If she’s been down here for a month then you’d better disappear completely.” I toss him into the far wall of the hallway. He bounces off and falls to the floor while sucking large gulps of air into his lungs. I grab the wood blocking the door and toss it behind me. Henry manages to duck, so I don’t get the satisfaction of the wood striking his head. Too bad for him because I may remove his head with my bare hands.
The smell was bad in the hall, but now that I’ve entered the cell, it’s overwhelming. I peer through the dark and don’t see her at first. I’m so intent on finding her that I kick a tin tray, causing it to clang against the cement floor. Mice skitter in every direction. “Fuck,” I say loudly into the cold room. Then I see her. She’s half covered by straw and curled up into a ball. I should be able to hear her breathing. The absence of the sound scares me the most. I bend down and place my hand to her cheek. She’s burning up and suddenly, she pulls a raspy breath into her lungs.