Authors: D'Elen McClain
An hour later, we helped Laryn bury his parents and little brother. We removed the human bodies from the castle and burned them like I had with those at my father’s lair. We dreaded the trip to Bastian’s realm, but hoped he, like us, had been spared.
Bastian stood at the top of one of his castle towers, silently staring up toward the moons that were still not visible. He didn’t acknowledge us at first and we stood for a long time waiting for him to speak. “Do you know what happened?” he finally asked in a low, deadly voice.
I stepped forward and told him the story of my uncle. He stared at me for a long time then wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me in close. The compassion of my friends overwhelmed me. None of my brother dragons held me responsible for what happened. We all lost those we loved and as far as we knew, we were the last of our kind. The Goddess’s wrath had to have killed my uncle. There was no way he could have escaped. And though I knew this, I couldn’t help a niggling sense of dread that this was not over.
We stayed in Bastian’s castle that night having no idea what to do next. None of us slept. We quietly spoke of our families. “It isn’t over,” Bastian whispered early in the morning—echoing my deepest fears.
We were right.
A few hours later, thunder and lightning filled the sky. I’d never seen anything like the angry display of fierce weather. Then as suddenly as it began, all went quiet. A woman’s harsh voice swelled within our heads until the pain was so great we fell to our knees. My eyes were tightly shut with my hands covering my ears. A female voice rang bitterly through my mind until I thought my head would explode.
The Goddess cursed us and we could do nothing. One-hundred-thousand years for the sins of my uncle. Each word of the curse was more painful than the last. When her voice stopped, the sun shown for the first time since the death of our parents. We didn’t fully understand the depth of the Goddess’s hatred. After vomiting our guts up, we tried to appear brave by joking about her wrath. Love for some human bride was the least of our worries. It seemed minor after everything we’d lost.
Days later we all became violently ill again. The Goddess had told us to choose the first to claim a bride. We thought it ridiculous. Finally, Bastian spoke after another round of puking. “I will go first and leave tomorrow to find a bride.” Our illness vanished as suddenly as it appeared and we knew we had no choice but to follow the Goddess’s dictates.
There were no more jokes.
We flew with Bastian to a village in a realm that bordered the dragon realms. The villagers fought us with everything they had and many of them died. The four of us had had enough of death. Killing these humans was not what we wanted. Bastian flew off with a young, terrified female.
The first bride threw herself from the tower two days later. Bastian hadn’t touched her. We were all virgins and had no idea what to do with a terrified girl. We knew that our fathers had each stolen a virgin and mated them. It required a female human virgin to transcend to dragon and produce offspring.
At our fathers’ knees we were told what would one day be expected of us. First, our fathers shifted to human form and wooed our mothers to form a bond. The women had no idea that they would mate dragon shifters. There was no going back after our fathers felt the mating call with a particular female. The young women were eventually stolen away from all that they knew and brought to the dragon’s realm.
Our mothers appeared happy and I never doubted that my mother loved my father. Dragons produce only male offspring, so the stealing of virgins was as old as time. I think if we were able to form a bond with the terrified brides before stealing them away, we may have had a chance. This wasn’t the Goddess’s plan for us.
We hated the curse. Bastian was devastated that his bride killed herself. It was twenty-five years before Laryn’s turn. This time we decided who was next with a game of poker. Loser had to take the next claiming. We hadn’t been back to the village in twenty-five years. Terror, death, and an ultimate bride were again the outcome. The screams of the burning humans stayed with us. It was Sarn who decided he would bargain with the villagers before his claiming.
Laryn’s bride was kept locked away so she couldn’t harm herself. Her endless crying drove us crazy. We all stayed together in Bastian’s realm because we needed each other to keep the horror of our situation from eating away at us. We had no idea that the curse would eventually divide us and make us solitary beings.
When it was Sarn’s turn, we flew to the village weeks early without Laryn. Even with how upset his bride became at the sight of him, Laryn wouldn’t leave her.
It took weeks of diving over their homes and breathing fire before the human were willing to listen. During that time, we took care to harm no one. They knew we could and that made all the difference. One shaky old man finally emerged to find out what we wanted. Sarn spoke telepathically and we remained in our dragon forms. Our terms were virgins only, choice of the bride, help for the village in lean years, and no killing of humans unless they breached the contract.
They had little choice but to accept; we made sure of that. A young female was sacrificed and we flew away lighter of heart.
During the next twenty-five years, it was hard to hide our jealousy after Laryn and his first bride fell in love. The urge to steal her began sneaking into my and Bastian’s thoughts. Sarn’s bride went crazy and was subdued at all times for her own safety. It didn’t stop Sarn from caring for her even when it would have been better to let her jump from a tower like Bastian’s bride.
Bastian and I spoke of our longing away from the other two hating that we wanted what our brothers had. A woman, a bride, a companion. We finally decided to go on a treasure hunt and leave Laryn’s bride alone. Earth was not yet civilized, but it had great treasures.
We didn’t meet Dmitri, for hundreds of years. Dmitri wasn’t such a great guy when we first came across him. But for some reason, he wanted a group of humans rescued. We agreed and brought them to our realm as servants. They were starving and in deplorable health. After they crossed, their health improved. The only side effect was their inability to speak and later we discovered their inability to pro-create. We knew deep inside our hearts that the failure to create children was so that we couldn’t use them as brides. The Goddess was holding us to her rules.
But, the story of Dmitri’s humans came much later.
We learned a lot in the first hundred years, or at least we thought we had. Even though a Goddess brought us to our knees—arrogance, stubbornness, and thinking we could somehow cheat the curse kept us from understanding what we had to do to break it.
I always knew it was me who deserved to suffer and my brother dragons were brought under the curse to cause me greater pain. The four of us went through so many stages of grief for the family we lost—anger, depression, and revenge kept us from seeing the truth. And, we also blamed our brides. We held them responsible for loving us and making us care for them. We did almost everything we could to push them away. Rape and terror became our way. I’d like to think we did it because we knew no better. But that isn’t true. We all remembered our mothers. Women who also had no choice and were stolen by dragons to be mates. Our fathers were no longer alive to tell us the ways of dragons. We could have changed and allowed our mothers’ remembered love to lead our hearts. We chose the path of the dominant species with the power to rule worlds.
I awake feeling rested. My legs are a little unstable, but I manage to get myself to the bathing chamber to take care of necessities. My breathing is heavy by the time I make it back to Tahr’s bed. I hear a noise and I look up expecting to see Tahr. I’m relieved that it’s Betty bringing food. I need thinking time to put my thoughts in order about the dragon. Betty looks over me closely and only when she’s satisfied that I’m okay does she give me a gentle smile. I’ve imagined her smile for weeks and answer it with my own.
The soup she brought is heartier than the earlier broth. My stomach growls loudly and our grins widen. Using sign language, Betty asks how I’m feeling.
We converse for a short time until she wants me to explain why I was punished. I look away, unable to meet her eyes and unwilling to share my transgressions. I had no right to touch Tahr. Even Meagan would have been upset. Thankfully Betty doesn’t push for an answer. Instead, she wraps me in her arms and pulls me close knowing exactly what I need most.
When she releases me and moves away, I sign that I want to return to my room in the other tower.
She vehemently shakes her head.
With decisive hand movements, I respond, “Yes, I must.” What is wrong with her? I can’t remain in the dragon’s rooms. I need to be as far away from him as possible.
In her normal bossy manner, Betty signs that I will stay put and await the dragon’s return. She leaves shortly after that because I’m no longer in a talkative mood and I immediately climb from the bed. My legs feel sturdier as I make my way to Meagan’s garment room, which is next to Tahr’s bedroom. Though I hate taking one of her gowns, I don’t want to return to my rooms in a robe and nightdress. I remove the plainest dress I can find. I will wash it and ask Betty to return it after I’m back in my room with my own clothes.
Slowly, I begin my journey. I travel down the stairs of this tower, which is far easier than what is ahead. Carefully placing each foot, I make it across the courtyard and manage to remain standing. I gaze up at the spiral stairs that lead to the wards. “One step at a time,” I silently tell myself. It’s a challenge. I stop often and lean into the cold stone walls to catch my breath. I have no idea how long it takes to climb the stairs to the women’s ward, but I manage. I receive reserved smiles from everyone I pass, but they shuffle about their day and no one offers help. Their behavior is so very odd, but I’m too tired to analyze it. By the time I make it to my room, I want nothing more than to sleep for a week.
Sweat covers my skin and my legs shake so badly that staying upright is nearly impossible. I enter my room and freeze. My safe haven, the space I’ve occupied since moving into the women’s ward is empty. My bed and belongings are gone. Too weary to do anything else, I collapse and curl up on the floor.
“What are you doing in here?” Tahr demands from the doorway.
I gaze up at his luscious body and burst into the tears I’ve been trying to hold back. He easily lifts me against his warm chest and carries me back the way I came. I’m so confused and too tired to fight.
“Stop your tears,” he commands. “I’ve had your bedroom items moved to my tower. You will no longer be living in this one.” He carries me past my friends and now I understand the strange looks they gave me.
He takes me to a small room beside the suite that belonged to Meagan. It contains my bed and small nightstand with a newly added standing garment cabinet. Meagan told me this room was meant for a child. A child she knew she would never have. There’s a large window with a small child-sized perch outside.
Tahr pushes back the covers and settles me on the bed. He finishes by tucking the covers around me. “You will stay in here and not return to the human tower. Do you understand?”
He seems almost angry and in complete bewilderment. I can only nod.
“Good, now sleep.”
That’s exactly what I do.
The dream is so real. Too real. The woman from my cell appears before me flying on Pegasus. His mighty white wings flap noiselessly as she stares down at me. “
You have the heart of a dragon. To prove yourself, you must fly. Go to the perch and cast yourself from the tower. If you believe, your greatest wish will be realized.
” She fades away as I blink rapidly several times.
Dreamily, I stand from the bed and walk to the window then outside onto the perch. Peering over the edge, I’m not frightened and a tingling sensation spreads around my shoulders. Without thought, I lift my arms.
“What the hell are you doing now?” Tahr shouts before grabbing me back from the edge.
My foggy brain clears and I realize I almost walked into thin air and a deadly fall. My entire body begins shaking as Tahr pulls me away from the window and out of my new room.
“You’re nothing but trouble,” he says gruffly. “You’re a stubborn woman with no sense. First you walk to the human tower and now you think you can fly. What were you thinking?” He rests me on a couch in his outer room and begins pacing.
Meagan’s desk is in the corner. He watches me with stern eyes when I stand and walk over to grab a pen and paper. Very slowly I write the words I need to say.
I am sorry for being a burden.
I must return to my room in the human tower.
Thank you for all you’ve done.
I promise not to bother you again.
Tahr is now standing beside me and peering over my shoulder. He rips the paper from my fingers when I try handing it to him and crunches it into a ball. He grasps my shoulders with his large hands and the undeniable energy that exists between us visibly sparks. He looks stunned for a moment but shakes it off quicker than I do. The light is so beautiful and the feel of it incredibly comforting.
“You are not returning to the other tower.” His teeth are clenched and I don’t think the light is as soothing to him as it is to me. He releases me and steps back. The loss of his energy is disheartening and I force myself not to reach out and touch him. He runs his fingers through his hair and sadly it reminds me that I have none. At least my headpiece is in place and I don’t suffer the indignity of him seeing me without it again.
He takes a few long breaths and seems to calm. “I have need of a servant and Henry will not be returning to his former job. You will fill his role and do his duties. Betty is too old.” He glares at me. “This is a command. You will not return to the human tower, you will never return there. Your former rooms are off limits. Do you understand me?”
I guess if he repeats the command enough times it might sink into my small human brain. The thought irritates me. I don’t understand Tahr and wonder if he’s crazy. There is no way I can take care of him. I know nothing of the job Henry performed. It doesn’t matter, though. Looking into Tahr’s determined eyes, I know I have little choice. The memory of Meagan’s sweet voice requesting I watch after her dragon fills my mind. Slowly, with a racing heart… I nod.
Tahr snorts and a small trail of smoke escapes his nostrils. “Good. Now that this is settled, you will join me for lunch.”
I almost laugh—first, because the smoke doesn’t intimidate me. Next, because I know for certain that Henry never joined the dragon for a meal. Tahr marches to the dining room where a very nervous Betty is setting the table. This will not work. With my legs still shaking, I walk over and help Betty lay out the silverware. Betty nervously signs that she will return with our meal as Tahr glares at the both of us. I ignore him and finish preparing the table. For two. This is absurd.
I’m sitting quietly with my head lowered and feeling ridiculous when Betty returns. I’m so uncomfortable, but Tahr doesn’t seem to notice. He actually fills my plate with food before filling his own. What is he doing and what does he hope this will accomplish?
“You will eat it all. You went too long without food and you’re too skinny.”
My irritation turns to anger.
He continues speaking with no regard to anything I might be feeling, “You will not begin your work until you have gained weight. I want you taking it easy and regaining your strength. I am a demanding master.”
Surly he jokes, I think sarcastically.
“When you are completely healed, I will train you to properly care for me. You will clean these rooms and take care of my clothing. You will communicate in your strange hand language with Betty and see that my meals are prepared to my liking.”
I began to contemplate strangling him. The “strange hand language” comment almost takes me over the top.
He doesn’t stop there, “You will eat with me and keep me company at each meal when I am here.”
How am I to keep him company? I can only communicate in a “strange hand language.”
“Now eat,” he demands as he takes his first bite of food.
It’s difficult not to toss my entire plate at his head. Would he kill me for doing so?
“This will not work,” he finally says. I haven’t touched a bite as I silently simmer. Tahr gets up and retrieves the pen from earlier and a blank sheet of paper. “I can see anger in your eyes, but I have no clue what could possibly upset you. I am giving you a great gift in allowing you to care for me and you should be smiling.” He lays the paper and pen beside my plate. “Now tell me what has you looking constipated.”
I eye the knife lying beside my plate then shift my gaze to the paper. The thought of picking up the knife and sticking it up one of Tahr’s nostrils is much too enticing. I calmly move my plate aside so I can write comfortably. I scribble three words. My hands aren’t even shaking when I slide the paper in front of him.
His roar of laughter surprises me. He crumples the paper and tosses it to the floor. “Eat. I command it.”
I eat. The food is wonderful and I can no longer deny my hunger. I refuse to look at Tahr. He doesn’t seem to care and tells me about the last treasure he stole. A lump forms in my throat as I realize, without Meagan, he must be very lonely. He should go visit his dragon friends or travel to another realm and visit with people capable of speaking aloud. No, I must stop thinking about his rudeness. He is a dragon after all.
Betty returns when we’ve finished and begins clearing the table. I stand to help but the dragon bangs his fist and I freeze. His glare pins me to my seat. When Betty is finished, she hastily leaves the room. Tahr stands and stomps out without looking back. I reach for the crumpled piece of paper on the floor and slowly unfurl it.
I hate you!