Sovereign of the Dragon (Part 1)
by J.J. Massa
“As it is, you have a simple vial of non-corrosive acid,” Dr. Fellepe droned on, pacing restlessly in front of the class, though not watching them.
“That’s an acetic acid, isn’t it, Dr. Fellepe?”called a girl Nadya recognized vaguely.
It was Reilly Lloyd, a voluptuous red head who stayed close to Luke Blackburn, one of the more popular, attractive young men in their year. Reilly's row was full of students housed in Phoenix Hall dressed in purple and gold. Though Nadya noticed that a boy from Leviathan Hall, Jason Peterson, was oddly out of place, half in and half out of the Phoenix row.
“That’s combustible with…” she tuned the rest of Reilly's answer out. The girl liked to have all the answers and boy could she go on.
Nadya looked around. The row she sat in was made up of students from Dragon Hall-- all in royal blue with dark midnight blue boots and belts. Beyond the purple-garbed students were those wearing the green of Leviathan Hall. Past them, the Unicorn students wore silver and white, Centaur Hall was dressed in brown and trimmed with tan, with Pegasus in cream and russet just beyond.
Tikan York, very blond, very fit, and very out of her league, was immediately in front of her, pretty brunette Lizzie Charles to his right. On his left, Nadya noticed Jason Peterson had moved closer. The pale, grinning boy was playfully tossing two vials of the afore-mentioned acid from hand to hand,. Without thinking, she reached in front of her, wrapping a hand around Tikan’s bicep.
If the wrong one of those vials dropped, or worse yet, they both hit the floor, he’d be right in the line of fire.
“The other vial contains a stronger substance, but…”
“Hey, watch this,” Jason grinned.
“Mr. Peterson!” Dr. Fellepe shrieked a moment too late. Or, Nadya thought absently, maybe his scream was right on cue. In fact, it was probably his high-pitched squeal that caused the young man to drop both vials right beside Tikan York.
The decent of the two glass containers seemed go on and on while Nadya grabbed Tikan with both hands, throwing herself backward and hooking her foot behind his ankle, thus taking him down. Somehow the muscular blond twisted before they hit the ground so that he was cushioning her fall though still holding himself above her.
He opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say anything though, the table he’d been standing at teetered, falling forward. A panicked glance showed the front left leg had been disintegrated by the acids and there was a hazy, sizzling mist hanging above a corroded spot in the floor where he’d been standing.
The young man trained his intense gaze back on her and Nadya couldn’t look away. His arm supported her back, his palm cupping her head. Nose to nose, he stared into her eyes, pressed against her from pelvis to knees. Nadya felt swamped, jolted, overwhelmed.
“Thank you,” he whispered with a half smile.
She squirmed slightly, her heart pounding in her chest. “You’re welcome,” she croaked through a dry throat.
“Yes, well, I suppose we should get up, hmm?” he murmured, bringing one leg underneath him. She could hear Dr. Fellepe ranting and raging off to her left.
Blushing profusely, she nodded, his fingers tightening against her skull, thumb brushing her jaw. He moved back into a kneeling position, pulling her with him. When he stood, he took her elbow and helped her to her feet.
“A penalty from Phoenix Hall!” Fellepe was still screeching. “You should have prevented your own housemate from injury! Take him to the infirmary, Mr. Blackburn!”
Nadya glanced ruefully at Reilly in commiseration and shrugged, offering her a tentative smile. The other girl tossed her head angrily and turned her back. Maybe her disdain was because she’d been penalized and Jason wasn’t even in her hall. Who knew? For some reason though, her cut direct hurt more than any of the many snubs Nadya had received since arriving at the school.
Of course she didn’t know anyone here. She didn’t know anyone at all in her own age group. Nobody knew her either. The two girls were both smart and up till now both cordial. Nadya had hoped they could become friends.
She couldn’t stop the fill of tears in her eyes as loneliness swamped her. Hurriedly, she pulled on her cloak and gathered her books; class would be dismissed any second now.
“Hey…” a masculine voice murmured just behind her. A hand tugged at her arm and she turned, looking into the dark blue eyes of Tikan York just as the tears spilled over her lashes.
Without a word, Nadya pulled away, ducking out the door ahead of the crowd. She needed to find a hidden nook somewhere in this giant stone fortress where she could sort herself out.
Slipping noiselessly through the door to Dragon Hall, Nadya shrugged out of her cloak and nodded sharply at it, sending it to its hook beside her bed in the sixteen year girl’s dorm.
“You’ve missed the evening meal, little princess. Come sit with me.” Too startled to resist, Nadya allowed it when the blond young man took her by the hand and led her to an isolated chair. Sitting, he tugged her onto his lap.
“But, I don’t really know you,” she squeaked out a feeble protest.
“You don’t really know anyone here, do you, my darling?”
She shivered at the way he called her that, so smooth and natural. The affectionate words seemed to flow off of his tongue. Shifting just a little, she turned so that she could see his face. He was handsome, which she already knew. Blond hair over eyes that were blue, so dark they looked nearly black. Midnight blue. He had a square jaw, a hint of a cleft in his strong chin. His mouth was wide, but not too wide and his lips just full enough. He looked like exactly what he was. The prince of Dragon Hall. Tikan York.
“No,” she sighed, dipping her head. “I don’t know anyone here.”
Tikan slipped one long finger under her chin, gently urging her to look up at him again. “You know me, princess.” Her brow furrowed and she shook her head. She really didn’t know him, though she recognized him. “You do know me—well enough to look after me, as I intend to look after you. From this point onward.”
Nadya shook her head once again, confused. How did this happen? She was all alone and a bit frightened, to be honest, and now the prince of Dragon Hall was holding her on his lap and declaring that he would take care of her.
“I just didn’t want you to get hurt. I knew about those acids in Alchemy. I’ve worked with them before. Peterson’s mistake would have melted your boots…” She was trying to be honest, to not make more of the situation than was called for.
“I appreciate it very much,” Tikan told her, leaning in to brush a fleeting kiss on her nose. “I really like those boots. And you were taking care of me. Now, I shall take care of you.” Wide-eyed, she sat still, shocked at the kiss and unsure of what to do. “Brownie!” he called out in a low but strong tone.
A small creature popped into view. It stood on two legs athough it looked a great deal like a ferret or possibly a meerkat. Covered in buff colored fur and with a twitching, delicately pointed nose, it shifted from foot to foot, waiting for instructions.
“I am Ram, sir,” the creature announced in a high soft voice, bowing briefly. “I am sent with you here.”
“Ram, it is very nice to meet you. I hope you've kept busy until now, since I havn't called on you before now," he greeted the creature. "Now then, this is my princess, Nadya. Please help me see to her needs. She has missed supper and will have a meat tea.” He held out his hand, palm flat, offering a wrapped piece of candy to the brownie. “Thank you, this is for you.”
“Candy for Ram?” the brownie gasped. One tiny, leathery hand reached out and snatched the paper-covered treat. “Ram will take very good attention of Prince Tikan and Magesty Nadya. Ram will bring tea and bread.” The little creature disappeared before Nadya could think to utter a sound.
“You…you have a brownie?” She didn’t know what else to say. And here she was, still sitting on this young man’s lap. Nadya began to edge away a little, intending to slide off.
Tikan’s arms tightened as he pulled her back, settling her against him. “I think we can be very good for each other. We can help one another. Stay with me and give it a chance, hmm?”
Nadya expelled the breath she’d been holding, collapsing against his solid chest, allowing her head to settle on his wide shoulder. She’d been so tense, so scared since she’d arrived—even before that, really.
From her very beginnings, she’d been something of a changeling. Her parents hadn’t married and neither would take more than a cursory responsibility for her. That left her alone, being tutored and shuffled from place to place. The adults who taught her and the servants who saw to her daily needs were her closest companions. She’d been inhabiting a townhouse in Rome at the behest of her father, and practicing voice lessons when the housekeeper had burst in. A letter had arrived! Nadya was to attend the Schola de Regnum at the start of the next term, just after her sixteenth birthday.
It was a six-year school, year round, and all of the beginning students were somewhere in their sixteenth year. All of them were remarkably intelligent, gifted with supernatural powers—magic of some kind and possibly other gifts. The school would teach her how to use what abilities she had so that she could advise a ruler when she was finished.
The leader she served could be anyone from a mayor to a king or queen and she might have a partner or be alone in her station. She’d have to blend in with everyone else, of course, but her charge would know of her. The conditions were the same for everyone who attended this school, except that they had been around others just like themselves. She had not.
Now, out of nowhere, Tikan York had chosen her to be with him. Her—so backward, so awkward. She began to sniffle.
“You don’t know me, Mr. York. I’m…I’m not like you. Even my own parents…” she turned her head, wanting to hide.
“Shh, my darling,” he murmured, threading his hand through her hair and gently easing her face into the crook of his shoulder at his throat. “Please call me Tikan. The moment I looked into your beautiful blue eyes I think a piece of my soul joined yours, little princess. Spend time with me for a short while. If you feel uneasy, you can pull away. If you feel you belong…” he let the sentence trail off.
If she stayed with him, walked with him, let him be her constant companion—the intent would become the action, the thought would become the deed. They would be a couple, even at their very-young age. In the last years of their schooling, they would vow to each other and become officially joined, by then a mere formality. And, since they were advisors, thier joining was for life.
Nadya pressed her face to his throat, breathing in his rich, clean, masculine scent. Everyone had noticed Tikan York, even before he’d come here.
The Quadruplator , the advisor newspaper, never missed a chance to feature the York family while Nadya went unnoticed, even by her own family…but Tikan had noticed she wasn’t at supper. The first time she'd seen his face in the newspaper, she'd felt a tug. Though she tried to ignore it, it was always there, like a low noise in the background of her life. Now, he had sought her out, showed concern, and as if that were not enough, asked her to be with him. Maybe he really did see her. Even if he didn’t, for a short while, she’d have someone to talk to. It would be a comfort.
“You won’t hurt me? You won’t be cross?” she mumbled, not taking her face from its warm place of safety.
“Never,” he insisted, stroking down her hair and resting his palm between her shoulder blades, rubbing lightly. “I’ll treat you like the rare and precious treasure you are.”
Nadya didn’t know what to make of the flowery way he was speaking to her, but she couldn’t deny to herself that she liked it. It made her feel special. The brownie chose that moment to return, a muted clatter telling her that the tea had arrived.
Reluctantly, she sat up, brushing the cuff of her sleeve across her eyes. “I’m really acting badly and I’m sorry,” she apologized. “This has been so odd. I spend so much time alone or with a tutor. Now I’m surrounded. I…”
“It’s all right,” he soothed. “Have a cup of tea and a bite of sandwich. Ram has gone to such trouble for us,” he coaxed. She saw him slip the brownie another piece of candy before it winked away.
“Are you always this nice?” she asked, accepting the tea. He pulled a small plate forward on the little table the brownie had conjured. It held two sandwich corners for her—watercress if she wasn’t mistaken.
Tikan arched a brow at Nadya and fought a smile. He might as well be honest. If she stayed with him as he hoped, she’d know the truth in time. There was no way he could keep his real self hidden even for a few weeks. Really, he had no desire to hide from her. She belonged with him and he knew it. She would know it too as they went along. He couldn’t believe his good fortune in finding her so soon and in his own hall as well.
“To tell you the truth, my darling, I am never this nice. I expect that I never will be this nice again, except to you…and possibly any children we have,” he added as an afterthought.
Her startled jerk nearly caused her to topple from his lap. “Ch-children?” she choked.
“Many, many, many years from now,” he stressed, leaning forward to kiss her temple. “For some reason, you bring out the best in me. No one else ever has,” he confessed. She nibbled uneasily at her sandwich and watched him warily. “I am arrogant, confidant, rude, snide and superior--to put a point on it. You’ll notice that pretty quickly, I’m sure. It’s a mark in my favor that you haven’t spotted it yet.”
“Why haven’t you treated me that way then?” she asked, sipping her tea.
“Maybe you’re as smart as I am. Maybe you’re right just as often. That and possibly, something in you calls to something in me.” He considered her carefully, shifting a little so that she could sit more comfortably. Reaching over to hold the plate close to her, he was pleased that she took the food from it. He was especially pleased that she stayed where she was, not moving away. It was something like enticing a wild creature into his hands. Now, if he could keep her willingly…he would do whatever it took. “Please, my darling, tell me about yourself. I know that your name is Nadya…nothing else save that you’re in the same hall and many of my classes, and that I want to be with you whenever I can. You know a bit about me and my family—advisors to the crown and government of Britain. My name is adapted from that of a Greek saint—it means ‘hitting the mark’.” He grinned mischievously. “I’m not sure if that’s in honor of my father’s achievement or high hopes for me…though I am an excellent shot.”
Nadya blushed and took a sip of her tea. She had wondered about his name. And now, she guessed she should reciprocate. Why not? She liked him. For so long she had liked him, and she really didn’t want to be alone anymore. Looking into his eyes before…she’d lost herself for a moment. Maybe they really did belong together.
“I guess who I am isn’t a secret,” she hedged.
“I want to know all about you. I’m sure that your family is recorded somewhere. I might mention it to my mother—she’s interested in that sort of thing. But nobody else,” he promised. “It’s just between us. Nadya…is that Swiss?” Seeing her scuffing her leg in discomfort, Tikan took a chance and slid first one long boot off her foot, and then her other. She smiled shyly at him and tucked her small feet between his left thigh and the arm of the wide chair they sat in. He grinned and pulled the layered skirt of her uniform down over her ankles.
All schools such as theirs had a uniform, though the Schola de Regnum’s uniform was quite unique comparatively. The colors, of course, depended upon the hall each student was assigned to. He was sure that stayed the same amongst all boarding schools the world over. There were no neckties however. The young men wore long, thick, soft sweaters belted over tight, heavy animal skin leggings dyed to match their tops. The pants legs were tucked into tall boots that stopped just at the knee. The young women had thick layered kid skirts, dyed the appropriate colors, whose hems were triangular, long enough to flow past their knees. Leather pull on boots covered their calves and stopped at the knees, the same as their male counterparts, with similar heavy, soft sweaters belted at the waist.
There were six halls: Dragon Hall whose colors were blue and darker blue, Unicorn, white trimmed with silver, Centaur Hall of brown accented with tan, Phoenix whose colors were purple and gold, Leviathan of green and lighter green, and then Pegasus Hall which was done in cream and russet.
Most often a child was placed in the hall his or her parents had lived in, though if there were conflicting halls, the father’s won out. Beyond that, if there wasn’t a precedent, the head office made recommendations based on criteria known only to them and the hall advisors took whomever they were given. Certainly, if a student couldn't conjure the creature their hall was named after, a change would be called for. Whenever possible, however, the number of students per hall at any given time was kept below seventy-two.
Gently, Tikan began to rub the back of one knotted calf, the thick cloth stockings kept her warm, but didn’t do a thing for her circulation, he was sure. “So, about you?” he prodded.
“Well,” she took a deep breath. “My name is Nadya Rasputin. My father is Vasily Ivanovich Rasputin and my mother is…anybody’s guess,” she admitted with an uncomfortable shrug. “Of course, they never married. Um, I guess they spent time together and…you know…” she blushed, looking away and sipping her tea. “Nadya is Russian, actually, the way it’s spelled.”
Tikan shook his head in shock. Descended from one of the most famous royal advisors in history. And whoever her mother was…it had to be someone from one of the royal courts. Grigori Rasputin’s diaries were required reading as were those of each and every one of his ancestors since.
“Well,” Tikan smiled, “my mother will certainly be impressed with such a weighty pedigree, if you’ll excuse the expression.” He tightened his arms around her briefly. “No doubt big things will be expected of you. It must be daunting.” She lifted a slim shoulder, not looking at him.
He was sure her frail form was testament to the heavy expectations placed on her. The product of such a liaison would be overburdened, no doubt.
“I’ve been tutored in everything from divinity, to royal deportment, to prophecy… so many things. I almost never see my father. He didn’t want me to have a heavy accent. So I had voice lessons,” she sighed. Looking hard at him she tilted her head. “I bet big things are expected of you, too. For a York.”
Tikan couldn’t help but smile slightly. “Yes, big things are expected. Maybe together, we can deliver,” he grinned and shrugged. “This must be very familiar to you, this cold? Where did you live before?”
Nadya shivered, unconsciously snuggling closer to Tikan who happily wrapped his arms more closely around her quaking form. “No, I was in Rome when my letter came,” she told him. “I’ve never been to Canada before, let alone Labrador. It’s so cold here. Did you think I lived in Siberia?”
“Guilty, I guess,” he laughed. “I lived in England, of course. Much colder than Rome, isn’t it? And your accent is European, but not Russian. Not French either…very cultured,” he complimented, hugging her. Any minute she could flit away. He’d take as much advantage of her closeness as he could.
She yawned into his shoulder, rubbing her face against his sweater. “I don’t think I’m going to last much longer,” she admitted reluctantly. “I think I need to go to bed.”
“I want you to get plenty of rest,” he insisted, his tone severe for a moment. “Don’t pay any attention to girls who want to give you a hard time.” He could think of at least two that seemed to believe he was promised to them. “Do you have wards around your bed?”
“I’ll be fine,” she countered, sweeping her hand under her so that her skirt didn’t bunch as she stood. Reaching for her boots, she asked, “Do you need help with this?” indicating the tea service.
“Our brownie will take care of it,” he promised. “I’ll wait for you by the door for breakfast, okay?” She glanced up at him, seeming surprised. Ah well, she’d figure it out in time. Leaning down, he brushed his lips across hers. “Sleep well, little princess.”
“Good night,” she mumbled before she fled the room.
I certainly didn’t expect to be writing to you so soon. And more than that, I didn’t expect to be writing about
this a woman who is my age. Her name is Nadya. Nadya Rasputin. Might as well get it out of the way now—her father is Vasily Ivanovich Rasputin and her mother is unnamed, so of course they weren’t married. None of that matters to me, but I know you like to look those things up.
She has the bluest eyes, mother. As blue as our tunics…as blue as the sky at noon. Her hair is long and blonde, lighter than mine by about two shades. She is shorter than I am and thinner…some girls aren’t you know. That bit concerns me because I don’t think she eats enough. But I’ve told our brownie to make sure that she eats. She missed last night’s meal.
I have asked her to spend time with me. I know how serious this is…and of course, so does she. Her parents didn’t spend enough time to be counted even though they were intimate. So of course, we both understand.
Mark this date. I believe she is for me.
Your loving son,
Tikan pressed the family crest of his ring deep into the sealing wax on the short note. Dropping it into his mailing box, he waved a hand over it. His mother would get the letter the next time she checked the mail. No doubt she’d be concerned. It wasn’t like him to become enamored of anyone so quickly. He vetted his friends carefully, slow to trust. He hoped she’d realize that Nadya was special. In time she would, certainly.
Glancing out through a recessed window cut into the thick stone walls, he wasn’t surprised to see a bleak rain this morning. From everything he’d read, this was an Indian summer for this part of Canada at minus two degrees Celsius, or twenty eight degrees Fahrenheit. As he entered the common room, he smiled at the thought of Nadya. How could he have missed her all of this time? One look into her eyes and he couldn't live without her.
He hoped she would remember her cloak and scarf this morning. The temperature had dropped noticeably as he made his way down the stairs. If she forgot, though, Ram would have them on her before she could leave their tower.
They would travel through the fortress, but only the dining hall, dorm towers and classrooms were heated—the halls and thoroughfares between were frigid and damp on every level. Were it nicer out, he’d consider a picnic on the top of the parapets. Sadly, that wouldn't be possible for months now.
“No, Miss Pelham, I’m waiting for someone, thank you,” he drolly addressed one young lady who tried to take his arm and lead him out the door. Her intrusion had interrupted his pleasant thoughts about Nadya, an entertainment he was impatient to continue.. “Hands off!” he snapped when it seemed the girl wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, he spotted the blonde head he’d been watching for.
“Good morning, my darling, you look wonderful!” he called upon seeing Nadya exit the hallway from the girl’s section of the tower. Ignoring shocked stares from his hangers on, Tikan took a step away from the wall.
Nadya blushed scarlet, smiling and rolling her eyes as she moved toward him. “Did you rest well?” she asked neutrally as he intercepted her.
Tikan took her heavy cloak and stepped into her personal space, slipping an arm around her waist. She looked up at him, her lips parted in surprise. Taking advantage, he leaned down kissed her quickly.
“Much better,” he murmured, shaking her cloak out and wrapping it around her shoulders. Buttoning it, he waved a hand, pleased when a two-toned blue scarf appeared, bring with it a pair of gloves, now poking out of a pocket in her cloak. “Put those on and let’s go to breakfast.”
She arched a brow at him, not speaking as he wrapped his own cloak around his shoulders and pulled on his own gloves.
Tugging one of her hands through his arm, he rushed them out the door and down the stairs. “Brrr,” Nadya shuddered, running along beside Tikan trying to keep up. “So cold and it’s only going to get worse,” she panted.
“Here we are!” Tikan announced jubilantly, pulling her through the double doors. He escorted her to a large round table. A wave of his hand sent their cloaks, scarves, and gloves to a nearby stand where they could easily find them when finished. “Are you hungry?” he asked as he pulled a chair back for her.
Sliding into her chair, Nadya closed her eyes, reveling in the heat from the enormous fireplaces recessed on either side of the room. “Yes, I’m starved. And coffee, I need coffee,” she groaned up at him.
Tikan was pouring them each a cup of hot, rich coffee when a snide male voice interrupted them. “Well, you’ve finally found someone who can make that garish blue sweater look good, Tiki.”
“You keep your eyes off of her sweater, Blackberry,” Tikan snarled. “Of course, those peacock purple and gold outfits you lot wear would have my eyes hurting just putting them on.” He turned and arched a brow at Jason Peterson, dressed in varying shades of Leviathan green.
“That’s Phoenix purple, prat,” Luke Blackburn growled back drawing his attention again. “Who’s the bird?”
Tikan stepped around her chair coming nose to nose with the other teen. “This is Nadya and she’s with me. You’ll show your manners around her, berk.”
Nadya looked on wide-eyed, not sure what to make of the altercation. “Just ignore ‘em,” a girl’s voice jerked her attention away, the accent was American, so Nadya knew who it was. Reilley Lloyd slid into the chair on Nadya’s left. “They’ll growl and posture for a couple more minutes.” The girl looked over at Nadya and ducked her head. “I’m really sorry I was such a bitch yesterday. I was embarrassed. And I can’t believe Jason couldn’t even stand still for five minutes holding acid of all things.”
“Hey!” Jason objected from two seats away. He, too, was American and Nadya wondered if they’d known each other before school.
Reilly rolled her eyes. “Anyway, you know Jason and I’m Reilly Lloyd,” she introduced herself, holding out her hand. “Friends?”
Nadya barely had time for a brief handshake when Tikan leaned down and took her other hand, kissing the back of it. “I’m sorry, love,” he murmured, setting a mug of coffee in front of her. “Will you try some eggs and toast this morning?”
She opened her mouth to agree but what came out was, “What was that all about?” She waited for an answer, ignoring Reilly and the others’ mumbling as Tikan slid into a seat beside her.
“That’s Luke Blackburn,” Tikan informed her, spooning food onto a plate for her as he explained. “I’ve never liked him.”
“Can’t stand you either, Tiki,” snarled Luke, his dark head bent over a plate of breakfast.
“Um,” she looked over at Tikan who kissed her hand again before tucking into his own meal, then glanced at Luke who caught her eye and winked from the other side of Reilly.
“Don’t worry, miss, I won’t hold your loud blue outfit or your bad taste in company against you,” he sniped.
She looked back at Tikan who curled a lip at the other teen but kept eating.
“If you hate each other so much, why do you sit together?” she asked, looking around the large room. There were plenty of vacant seats throughout the hall.
Tikan put down his fork, a smile tugging at his lips. Reilly and Jason began to snicker. Luke rolled his eyes.
“You know what they say about friends and enemies, Miss Nadya?” Luke asked straightfaced. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” He turned a glare on Tikan. “I can’t take my eyes off that one. I’d rather see the knife at my throat then feel the one at my back.” He bit a slice of toast in half with a ferocious chomp.
Tikan rolled his eyes. “You’re such a drama queen, Luke,” he sneered. Turning to Nadya he explained. “We have something of a rivalry, you might say. For generations, both his family and mine have been advisors to the Crown, the House of Lords, or the House of Commons. Usually, there are two or three advisors from each family with members of different branches of government intermingled. We don’t plan it and we don’t choose it—the ruler chooses his or her advisors based on various on…well, you know…magic. Inevitably, though, that is where we end up. Right next to each other.”
Nadya nodded, glancing from one to the other. Things were becoming interesting, but she certainly wasn’t alone and lonely anymore.
Nadya grinned proudly at Tikan when her dragon appeared in the rear courtyard as summoned. He’d already summoned his and banished it per instructions. His had been large and mean-looking with dark blue scales and iridescent, feathered wings. For a few minutes, she’d feared that her own dragon wouldn’t come.
It had finally showed after a nervous moment, looking around curiously. It was a sweet-looking dragon with bright blue scales and lighter, opalescent wings. It had long eyelashes and an enlongated, delicate snout, wisps of smoke curling gracefully from slit nostrils.
“That has got to be the most girly dragon I’ve ever seen,” sneered Baker Thomas, a tall boy with a permanently angry demeanor.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. She’s pretty!” Nadya objected, smiling over at her dragon.
“She’s worthless!” Baker spat back at her, kicking a rock toward the dragon.
That had apparently been the wrong move to make. Nadya’s very pretty dragon frowned, eyebrow ridges coming together in outrage as she turned to Baker, lowering her head. She voiced one deep hissing growl, and a long flame of blue and green licked over Baker, leaving him on the ground screaming.
Dr. Loudly, the summoning master, rushed to Baker calling out and chattering at the same time. “Class dismissed…uh, Miss Rasputin, banish your dragon! Mr. Thomas, when will you learn…” he babbled as he immobilized Baker in preparation for transport to the infirmary.
“Bye, pretty dragon,” Nadya murmured, reaching over to pat her snout. “Thanks for sticking up for us.” The dragon purred a low rumble before winking away.
“Well, my darling,” Tikan walked up to her, pulling her into his arms. “That was quite instructive. And a very pretty dragon, no question about it. I think my dragon would have been most taken with her.”
“You think so?” Nadya asked with a blush, resting her head against him. She hadn’t slept well the night before and she was enjoying the comfort of having him so close. It was amazing to her how easy it was for her to touch and be touched by him. That was a liberty she'd never allowed anyone, much less one she'd ever taken. Since class had been shortened suddenly, she could afford a few minutes to snuggle between courses.
The last lesson of the day was Sorcery and International Finance and she knew she’d need to pay attention. Next to Macro Economics, it was her most challenging class. Even International Law wasn’t as bad as Sorcery and Finance..
“What’s on your mind, darling?” Tikan asked, tipping her face up. “I can tell you’re nervous about something. Won’t you tell me?”
Nadya sighed and pulled back. They’d been together almost two months and Tikan told her most things, so she tried to reciprocate. Generally, she never had much to tell him since she didn’t have any real life outside of school. But this time…why beat around the bush?
“I wrote my father a letter,” she blurted.
Tikan blinked. “I take it that’s new for you?” he asked carefully.
“Um, yeah. I haven’t heard from him since I first got to Rome last year. Usually, the staff tells me things he says. He almost never writes to me. Or vice versa.” She moved up beside him and looped her arm through his, walking with him toward the keep and into the building proper. “Somehow, though, I think he’ll answer.” She glanced up at him, surprised to find his eyes trained on her face as they walked. “I told him that you and I have been…together so to speak. And I said that your mother has asked me to join you for the long weekend next week. Um, he has to give permission, you know…”
“So you intend to come then?” Tikan asked with a studied, casual air.
“Yes,” Nadya smiled, turning to kiss his jaw.
It was intended to be a brief peck on his chin—she wasn’t very demonstrative. In fact, he had been pretty restrained overall, treating her carefully and not rushing her. This time, however, he anticipated her and moved his head. Maybe he’d intended to answer, she didn’t know.
His lips caught hers and she melted into him with a sigh, a rush of heat weakening her knees as he caught her against him. His tongue stroked over her lower lip, her mouth opening to his exploration.
She heard herself moan as if from a distance, her fingers raking through his light blond hair, one arm around his neck. His lips, his tongue, she was drowning in him and all she wanted was to just let go and see what happened next.
“Better get a room, mate, faculty storming the ramparts any second,” Luke whispered into Tikan’s ear, but of course he got Nadya’s attention, too.
Tikan pulled away slowly, as if from a very good dream. Nadya settled on her feet, noticing that Luke was on her left and Jason her right. Reilly stood in front of a befuddled Tikan who was turning slightly away and nodding at a professor.
“Thanks,” Tikan mumbled, shaking his head as if to clear it.
“All right there, mate?” Luke elbowed him, causing him to stumble.
“Yeah…fine,” he muttered, holding out his arm so that Nadya could step in beside him. “Nadya said she’d come meet my family,” he announced, grinning.
“You won’t mind if we three tag along then?” Luke asked, jostling Tikan with his elbow again. Luke glanced first at Reilly and then over at Jason significantly. “It’s not like I can bring them home to my folks, now is it? Might as well test the waters on yours, yeah?”
Nadya looked from Luke to Reilly to Jason who was looking back at her and blushing slightly. She felt her eyes widen as she began to understand. “I don’t mind,” she smiled.
Tikan gave her a squeeze. “Suits me,” he agreed.
“Miss Rasputin, a word!” a high pitched male voice called out, cutting through the din in the supper hall.
“Yes, sir?” she asked, scooting back her chair and standing. Beside her, Tikan moved to his feet.
“You’re needed in the office,” he piped. She recognized Mr. Sparrow, the head of the sixteen-year class and assistant to Ms. Sloane, the headmistress. Together, she and Tikan moved toward him, Nadya automatically resting her hand on the crook of Tikan’s arm. “Just Miss Rasputin, Mr. York,” the short man insisted.
“We’re together,” Tikan said abruptly, his tone brooking no argument.
Sparrow glared at Tikan, clearly debating an argument. Tikan trained a hard look on the older man and refused to look away. Finally, the assistant harumphed and flounced away, leading them out of the crowded room.
Nadya was nervous as they followed Sparrow through the long hall, stopping at the door of the antiroom outside the headmistress’ office. “Just go on through,” he told them, opening the door. His smile was strained as he waved them in, stepped back and closed the door behind them.
They exchanged glances and Tikan moved in front of her. The inner door burst open and a thickly accented voice cut the silence.
“Nadya! Don’ka! Daughter.” Then suddenly, there he was, tall, slim, brown hair clipped neatly and pale eyes glittering.
“Father!” Tikan stepped back and Nadya moved forward, unsure but wanting to hug him.
Her father took her by the shoulders and kissed each cheek before demanding, “Ya ne rozumiyu…I do not understand. Why are you here? I did not send you!”
“I got my letter, Father,” she managed, proud that her voice didn’t crack. “The staff helped ready me. I thought you knew.”
He turned to the headmistress. “How is it you do not ask me?” he growled. Turning his back on the woman, aparently uncaring of any excuse, he barked at Tikan. “You would be with my daughter?”
Nadya swallowed heavily, legs shaking. He was still clutching her shoulders, but she reached out her right hand to Tikan. “Yes father, we are together.”
Tikan stepped forward, taking Nadya’s hand. “Yes, Mr. Rasputin.” He cleared his throat. “Mene zvaty Tikan York. I choose your daughter,” he said formally. His Russian was clumsy but effective.
For a half second, Nadya thought she saw approval and respect in her father’s eyes. He turned to the headmistress.
“Leave us!” he growled. “I would talk to my children!”
“Now see here, Mr. Rasputin,” Ms. Sloane, the very sultry, forty-something headmistress objected.
“Leave us,” he repeated, his voice low and angry, almost a hiss.
Ms. Sloane glared at him for long seconds before turning away angrily. “You have five minutes!” she gritted, slamming out of her office.
Rasputin waited to hear the outer door slam and then went to check, making sure they were alone.
“Father?” Nadya asked uncertainly, reaching out to him.
Vasily Raspution stepped forward, wrapping his arms around his daughter for the first time in her memory. “This place is danger to you. You must leave it or you bring danger here,” he told her, resting his chin on the crown of her head. She was enjoying the feeling of being close to him though at the same time she was scared, her own arms going around his waist. “You are of the line of sucession for at least two crowns, three…more even—an empire. Now that you have been named and people have seen you, you are a threat. You are in danger, my daughter. I would have you live.”
She tilted her head back and looked into her father’s eyes, but it was Tikan who spoke. “Nadya is in line for the crown in two—three monarchies? More?” He was thinking aloud now, she recognized his problem solving voice. “Doesn’t matter if she decries the privilege either, does it? She’s always going to be a threat, isn’t she?”
“Very good, boy,” Rasputin murmured, praising Tikan while stroking Nadya’s cheek. “This is why I stay so far away. My heart misses you,” he told her, sincerity shaking raggedly in his tone..
Nadya felt the tears threatening and sniffed. “So I have to go hide again?” she forced out.
“No!” her father growled, pulling her against him and holding her tightly. “It will do no good. You are The Sovereign of the Dragon,” he announced, his voice hard.
Nadya gasped. “But that is not real!” She looked at Tikan, half turning in her father’s arms. “I can’t be…”
“I am a dragon, you are a dragon, he,” he indicated Tikan, “is a dragon. Is most important, that is. The crown and the dragon bring the world’s monarchies together…you are The Sovereign of the Dragon. You are the rule.”
“Even my parents call it a myth…” Tikan said, almost to himself.
Rasputin ignored him in favor of Nadya. “I give you an address. You will find this man and he will bring you forward to do as you will. He is your mother’s brother and abdicated his reign to her before it began.”
Tikan’s brow furrowed and Nadya knew she looked confused. “Only Edward VIII…”she began.
“No, not him. It is more than that crown. This is from behind the scenes, nobody knows. But he is untouchable—no one would dare threaten this man upon fear of a world war. You must go to him and travel to the crown with him. You can write to him first, only contact him that way so he will help prevent bloodshed.” He slipped a paper into the sleeve of her sweater. Pressing a kiss on her forehead, he smiled. It sat oddly on his thin lips, making his weathered face appear even narrower than it naturally was. “Do you believe I dressed as this young man once upon a time?”
Nadya looked at Tikan, fair hair, dark blue eyes, dashing in his royal blue with dark blue leathers. “You must have been very handsome, Father,” she smiled up at her father, imagining him dressed the same way—trim with gray-blue eyes, brown hair, wiry muscles. “Very handsome,” she murmured, kissing his leathery cheek.
“But of course,” he agreed, hugging her a last time. “Now you are here and I have been here. There is danger about. I must go.” He gave them each a hard look. “Do what you can to keep yourselves safe. In doing this, others will be safe also. You can only do so much.”
“Father…” she didn’t know what she meant to say, but was reluctant to let him go in the face of this very unusual affection. She wanted to keep it for herself and keep him safe as well. “You’ll be in danger, too, won’t you?”
“They will try to find you. To stop you. Do not try to reach me, daughter.” He turned to Tikan. “Get her away from here as soon as you can.”
“My word of honor, sir,” Tikan promised, extending his hand.
Vasily took it firmly, shaking on it. “You are love and advisor to many crowns and my most treasured daughter. The world will depend on you, as do I. Proceed with your best.”
“Father,” Nadya stopped him, grabbing his forearms. “My mother?”
“I can tell you nothing. The less you know now, the less a threat you are. Guard your thoughts carefully, all of you. Find that man, he will tell you what he can. Go with my love in your heart, daughter.” He squeezed her shoulders and turned, striding from the room without looking back.
Tikan wanted to take Nadya back and talk to Luke, Jason, and Reilly. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t in the cards tonight. Not only would everyone be watching them, especially the headmistress, Nadya was simply in no fit state for it.
He led her back to the chair where he’d first told her that he cared about her. Sitting down, he pulled her onto his lap.
“Ram!” he called out to his little brownie.
“Yes, sir. Ram is here to serve the prince and princess,” the brownie declared, materializing in front of them.
Odd, Tikan thought, how he’d called her princess before in an effort to express how much he valued her to the little creature. Now, it seemed that she was a royal princess. Not a queen, but only because she hadn’t been recognized as yet.
“Cheese and crusty bread, Ram, and strong hot tea,” Tikan ordered, holding out the candy. The brownie reached for it and Tikan closed his hand around it. “Ram, can you make sure that our privacy is not… invaded?” the brownie tilted his furry head. “Guard us from being overheard. Make sure nobody has access to our mail…”
“Ram can do that,” the little creature insisted, appearing mildly offended that Tikan had even felt the need to voice concern..
Tikan held out his hand. A second piece of candy sat on his palm next to the first. “Thank you, Ram.” The brownie snatched the two pieces of candy and popped out leaving Tikan and Nadya alone. “Are you okay?” Tikan asked, his voice deep and thick.
“I’m so glad you were there,” Nadya murmured, relaxing against Tikan. “There are so many things…He loves me.” Her voice cracked. She twisted in Tikan’s arms and looked up. “I never knew he really loved me.” Tears spilled over her long blonde lashes and her body began to shake.
Tikan gathered her close, mumbling nonsensical platitudes and just holding her. He couldn’t imagine what it felt like not to know if your parents even cared. And Vasily Rasputin was such a regal, imposing man, sharp as a blade and much more dangerous. That was his love’s father and lover to someone so powerful and of such rich heritage—easily half the world would bow to her if they but knew. Who was Nadya’s mother? More importantly, who did they think Nadya was?
Ram returned by the time that Nadya had gathered her shattered nerves. He served her a plate of bread and cheese and popped away, hopefully seeing to Tikan’s other requests.
“You should mail your uncle soon, then, hmmm?” Tikan asked, thinking aloud. “And I’ll write a note to Luke tonight and firm things up in sword fighting tomorrow. We’ll leave here midweek for my parents and then make our way from there before the weekend is out, yes?”
“Yes, that make sense,” Nadya agreed. “I’ll tell you his address later. I don’t feel good about even checking it just now,” she said, rubbing the place on her sleeve where the paper crinkled underneath. She took a small bite of her croissant and turned on Tikan’s lap. “I was very proud of you tonight,” she told him. “And I’m really glad you were there...I know, I’m repeating myself,” she blushed.
“Maybe I haven’t said it yet…and maybe we’re too young by some people’s standards,” Tikan began. He pulled her close and kissed her temple. “I love you, Nadya. I hope my actions have proven that to you. I hope my future actions bear that out.”
“I’m going to spend every minute I can making sure you know that I love you, too,” she croaked, hugging him tight. “I love you, too.”
Professor Rupert Godfrey was enjoying a quiet day off at home. He had no classes on Thursdays nor did he keep office hours. His time was theoretically his own today and he would try to enjoy every minute of it. Besides, while his small staff didn’t seem to appreciate the concept of leaving him alone, none of them were up this early in the morning.
A muted sliding thud caught his attention and it took him some minutes to figure out where the sound had come from. The process of elimination told him that he should check the small mahogany wooden box on the table by his bed. He wasn’t a ruler anymore, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t get letters, now did it?
The envelope was a royal blue emblazoned with the outline of a dragon. The upper right corner declared: Schola de Regnum, Dragon Hall.
He only knew one alumnus from there, specifically from Dragon Hall…it couldn’t be.
Sinking to the bed, he carefully slit the fine parchment envelope and pulled the folded paper out. With more than a little trepidation, he set his reading glasses on his nose and shook the muted blue pages flat.
Hello Professor Rupert Godfrey,
a woman’s penmanship…
I am most confused and somewhat shocked as I write this letter to you. Because of this, you will likely find this note candid and unfortunately more than a little blunt. My apologies.
Intrigued, he read eagerly on.
My father arrived at school to see me last evening. If you know him, you will agree that he is not a demonstrative man.
A sense of dread prickled up Rupert’s spine. Dragon Hall…not demonstrative…
He, my father, was angry and upset that I had been called to school without his input. I had no idea that he did not want me to attend.
This girl would be sixteen if she was just starting the Schola de Regnum—he had given up his throne nearly seventeen years ago. He almost never thought about that anymore.
My father said that I am in line for the succession for two or three…maybe four crowns or something.
Rupert froze, rereading that line again. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t…
He told me that you are my mother’s brother and only you can help me now that I have been seen.
Father told us that I am to find you.
Please write back. We have a brownie here who will protect our privacy. We will leave the Schola de Regnum on Wednesday and then leave the United Kingdom in a day or so after that.
Will you help?
Nadya Ana Elisabeth Rasputin
Numbly, Rupert scanned the letter again. Nadya Ana Elisabeth…and only he could help her now that she had been seen. She must look like Anna…his Anna Elisabeth, his beloved sister.
Was it his fault? She lay in a coma even now…had done for fourteen years. The child would have been two at that time and nobody—nobody save Vasily Rasputin—had known. If she had been old enough then, the child would have succeeded and been invested as monarch with Rupert and others to advise her.
He had relinquished his crown to his sister, who had been better suited of the two. Now, he couldn’t take it back. As it was, power hungry whores of the court ran half the world, smug in the surety that the line ended with Anna. Upon her eventual death, they would divide the globe like a children’s puzzle. Except that there was a living, natural heir…heiress, to be exact.
Oh no…she was coming and she’d need him. Vasily and Anna had brought a child into the world. He had a niece!
Rupert felt faint. Where had the girl been all this time? What was she like? Father told us that I am to find you… Us. Who is us?
“Hey, Prof! You in there? Professor G?”
“Hey you! Are you back there?”
Rupert startled and sat up straight. It was Lionel and Ally, two of his staff. Though much younger than he was, the four youths that worked with him were easily his closest friends.
“Do you…” his voice cracked. “Do you mind putting on the kettle? I’ll be right in!” he managed to call out in response.
“You okay?” Ally poked her head in the bedroom door—it had been open and she’d been careful of his privacy. In the background, he could hear Grace and Antonio, the other two of his staff, arriving and greeting Lionel.
Rupert took a deep breath. “Something’s happened,” he told her, forcing himself to meet her eyes. Whatever she saw in his made her breath catch. “I have something to do and then we’ll need to have a bit of a chat. Make it a strong pot of tea, will you?”
She searched his eyes for long seconds. “Okay, I’ll settle the others down. See you in a sec.”
Dear HRH Princess Nadya Ana Elisabeth Rasputin, Duchess of Cornwall,
You must know that I am stunned to receive this letter. I had no idea that my beloved sister had given birth. I am and will always be at your service. If I could go to you, I would. Unfortunately, I fear any precipitous moves on my part will lead your enemies straight to you.
I have so many questions about you—your years until now…what you think, who you are. Forgive an old man, old to you anyway, for my sentimentality. Just know that I am pleased, thrilled, overawed…I'm glad to have…I'm glad that someone of my blood, my sister's blood lives and walks the earth with me.
I have a small staff that works for me in my role as an historical detective as well as serves me in my duties as Professor of Comparative World History at Princeton University. My course load is light and I can leave if need be. My staff, too, will be at your service.
I’m afraid I ramble—my apologies to you. This has me rather knocked for six as you can understand.
You said ‘We will leave’ –who is we?
I anxiously await your response.
HRH Prince George Edward Rupert Godfrey, Duke of Wyndham
Rupert carefully folded the letter, written on plain parchment, and slipped it into a blank envelope. He quickly scrawled Nadya Rasputin, Schola de Regnum, Dragon Hall in the center. Should the envelope somehow fall into the wrong hands, no damaging information would come from him.
Lost in thought, he pushed himself to his feet. Still holding the polished wood box like a treasure, he made his way into the kitchen, following the scent of bergamot. Before he could reach for the teapot himself, a pair of dusky, delicate brown hands holding a deep teacup swam into his line of sight.
“Oh, thank you, Grace,” he murmured, embarassed to be caught so unaware.
“You said something has happened?” Ally encouraged, her arm on Antonio’s thick bicep, keeping him from demanding information. The nineteen year old Italian was quick to temper and anxious to act, all the time.
“Yes, yes it has…” Rupert agreed, gathering his thoughts. “As much as there are things you were never made aware of…”
“Prof, come on,” Lionel insisted, the dining room light glinting dully off of his shaven dark head. “We’re dying here.” In a quieter voice, he went on, “We want to help. What’s up?”
Rupert sighed and sat down. “This is going to be complicated and involved. I would appreciate it if you would simply let me get on with it and ask questions at the end, yes?”
“Um, okay…sure,” they agreed, talking over each other.
He waited for tea to be poured and everyone to settle. He opened the lid on the wooden box he still held and dropped the letter into it, placing the box on the table and waving his hand above it. “My true and legal designation throughout most of Europe is His Royal Highness, Prince George Edward Rupert Godfrey, Duke of Wyndham. There are a lot of other names along with that. And in other parts of the world there are, of course, other titles.” He held up a hand to stop any input from the four people listening. “Eighteen years ago, I succeeded to my throne though I was singularly ill suited for it. Through a series of behind the scenes machinations, my sister, Anna Elisabeth Victoria Jane, Duchess of Cornwall, ascended the throne and brought with her several states and territories not previously part of the known monarchy. I abdicated my crown quietly; nobody really even knew what happened. This was almost seventeen years ago now.”
Antonio reached over and opened the box. “Hey! Where’d that letter go?”
“More tea?” Ally smiled, pouring for him and glaring around the table. Grace quickly jumped up and put another kettle on to boil.
“Here you go. That’s some pretty big stuff…”
“Yes,” Rupert agreed, appreciating her gentle way of giving him a break and handling her curious friends. “My abdication was handled in such a way that any attack on me would still be seen as an attack on the crown and an invitation to war. So, my sister and her advisors gained me the quiet life I needed, safe and secure.” He sighed heavily, guilt gnawing at him. “Two years and six months after Anna was enthroned, something happened. The course of events is still unclear…regardless; she’s in a coma and has been for fourteen years.” He shook his head sadly at the gasps around the table. Pulling out the blue folded parchment he had found in his letter box that morning, he opened it and laid it on the table. “This arrived for me today by a very specific form of delivery. I’ll explain these idiosyncratic things that have to do with leaders and advisors later. I am still expected to review and notate certain legislation and in other ways represent the crown. An advisor to the crown actually has a great deal of knowledge and even supernatural ability to draw from.”
“Uh…sure, man,” Lionel agreed, disbelief oozing from every pore.
“The Sovereign of the Dragon,” Rupert intoned. “Is not a myth,” he said over the half-voiced objections throughout the room. “There are governments and monarchies in place that are recognized, but standing behind them, guiding and ruling, are even larger monarchies—older monarchies that join the known and accepted world with the unknown and unbelievable history that brought us where we are today.”
Rupert jerked slightly when he heard the sliding thump of a letter arriving in the box. Looking around, he wasn’t the only one to react. Without thought, he leaned over and lifted the lid of the box, pulling out a blue envelope.
“Hey! That wasn’t there before!” Lionel and Antonio said together.
Ignoring them, he opened the envelope and removed the letter, sitting back to read it.
HRH Uncle Rupert,
I hope you don’t think me presumptuous, but I only have a short time for break and as we’re family, I didn’t want to write all that. If, as Father says, I am The Sovereign of the Dragon, that shall be my first dictate. That I call you Uncle Rupert and you call me Nadya or whatever you like as long as it isn’t five words long. (I know I’m being cheeky—I’m afraid I’m quite nervous)
The We that I mentioned in my last letter includes Tikan York, who has been with me these last two months and pledged himself before my father last night. He is a Dragon as well. Also, we expect to enlist Luke Blackburn and Reilly Lloyd, both Pheonix, as well as Jason Peterson who is a Leviathan and from what I understand, is to mate with Luke and Reilly. You no doubt recognize their family names from The Quadruplator or from being a ruler yourself. I am most fortunate in my friends.
Our vague plan is to visit Tikan’s family’s London home in two day’s time and leave from there during the night. Tikan and I have conjured our dragons so we hope to travel that way. No doubt the others’ familiars will come in handy at some other time.
Therefore, there are five of us and hopefully, we can take care of each other while somehow managing not to attract too much attention. As Tikan’s involvement seemed to emphasize The Sovereign of the Dragon for Father, I felt we needed extra support. No matter what else we are, we are only partially trained advisors and sixteen-year-olds at that.
I have an afternoon of Charms, Hexes, and Curses class, Demonology, and then Ethics class, and Ram—Tikan’s brownie, has just brought me tea and biscuits. I look forward to hearing from you later.
“Sweet, sensible, pledged to a York and counting a Blackburn amongst her friends,” Rupert mumbled to himself. “And the daughter of a formidable Rasputin…not to mention my sister. I can’t wait to meet this girl.”
“Dragons? The Quadruplator?” Lionel questioned, apparently having read over Rupert’s shoulder. “What exactly is a brownie?” he asked. “I mean if it brings tea and stuff…”
Rupert looked at Lionel through narrowed eyes, but decided to answer his questions, both spoken and unspoken. No doubt the others were curious, too. He passed the letter around so everyone would know what he was talking about.
“The school my niece attends is in place to train advisors to the world’s leaders. They are taught a myriad of subjects from Alchemy to Media Awareness and everything in between. There are six halls where students are assigned based on their parents and their own personalities and such. One of the halls is Dragon Hall. Students in that hall are taught to conjure their own dragon—a familiar to comfort or protect them. The students of Phoenix Hall each conjure a phoenix.” He sighed. “The Quadruplator is the advisor newspaper. And a brownie is a small, sentient creature with some magical abilities that dedicates itself to a family and serves them. Tikan’s brownie would look after Nadya as well, if they are pledged. Anything else?”
“Uh, that’s good for now,” Antonio muttered. “So, we’re getting company, huh? Five kids and two dragons?”
“They’ll banish their dragons when they get close to people,” Rupert assured them. “But yes…we’re getting company. I suppose we should make up the guest room.”
"Rooms, you mean," Ally corrected gently as she poured more tea. "Two girls and three boys--you'll definitely need more than one room."
Rupert closed his eyes and tried to imagine his newfound niece, a younger version of his sister perhaps, skimming ocean waves on the back of a colorful dragon. That thought scared him so badly that he shot to his feet and hurried toward his office’s tiny kitchenette.
“You okay there, professor G?” The deep voice startled Rupert to the point that he stumbled, catching himself on the molding of the doorjamb. “What’s up, Prof?” Lionel asked again.
Taking a deep breath, Rupert calmed himself. “I’m fine Lionel,” he assured the younger man. “I simply needed a cup of tea.”
“Needed, huh?” Lionel teased, dark eyes twinkling now. “Like you were gonna keel over and die if you didn’t get any?”
Rupert aimed a narrow-eyed glare at Lionel. “Yes, as a matter of fact, that is exactly how badly I needed a cup of tea, young man. And if you continue to harass me, you’ll be needing much more than that.”
“What’s wrong? What’s really wrong?” Lionel asked, his tone becoming concerned. “You’re snippy.” Rupert opened his mouth to rebut, but the other man cut him off. “No, you’re snippier than usual. What’s upsetting you?”
“I’m worried,” Rupert said, voice clipped, moving past the younger man and into the kitchenette. After a moment, he exhaled gustily. “I’ve only had a niece for a few days—as far as I knew anyway—and now I’m frightened for her.”
“What do you think is wrong? I mean, why do you…” Lionel lounged against the doorjamb, arms crossed, light dimly glinting mocha off of his bald pate as he shook his head in frustration. “Just tell me what’s on your mind, Prof, because for some reason, I can’t seem to talk just now.”
Rupert offered his assistant a half smile. Filling the electric kettle with water and then preparing the teapot to accommodate two cups of tea. “It’s quite a distance from England to here, of course,” he explained, turning to lean against the counter. “They’ll be taking dragons. It’s not as if they can all hop on the Concorde after all. I doubt any of them has much experience with dragons, as they are all so young. I, personally, wouldn’t have the first idea, and these children are in their first year of school. The ocean is quite large, as I’m sure you’ve noticed…and that’s just for starters.”
“Oh god,” Lionel moaned, sinking to sit at the small table against the wall. “Now I’m worried. Dragons. I can’t imagine…these kids are sixteen, right? They’re pretty fearless at that age.”
“They are, rather,” Rupert agreed. “You’re not far off sixteen yourself,” he pointed out, pouring the boiling water over the tealeaves.
“That’s how come I know how fearless they are…Dragons,” he repeated. “I can’t picture it. It’s just not real to me, you know? But I believe it because you do. And you’re a pretty smart guy. You know about a lot of things.” Lionel studied him for a moment. “So you were a king huh? That’s hard to picture, too. Not that you’re not regal or anything,” he snickered irreverently.
Rolling his eyes, Rupert checked the clock to be sure the tea had steeped long enough and then poured out two cups. “Sugar?” he asked, adding a cube to his own cup. It was too tight in the little kitchen for a full tea service, after all.
“You got those little squares?” Lionel asked hopefully.
Once again, Rupert couldn’t help rolling his eyes. “Yes, Lionel, I do have those little squares. They’re actually referred to as cubes—or lumps –as in, “would you like one lump or two?” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase?”
Chocolate eyes squinted in a mock threat before Lionel tilted his chin in disdain. “Whatever, man,” he shrugged, lounging back in his chair, as if he’d been poured over its wooden frame. “If they’re the small size…no, you know what? Give me five of ‘em. Just put ‘em on the little plate. And don’t tell me you weren’t gonna give me a little plate cuz I won’t believe you.” He held one palm out flat and mimed the dainty lifting of a teacup with thumb and forefinger, his pinkie pointing in an absurd parody.
Rupert huffed indignantly. “It’s called a saucer, young man, in the civilized world, at least.” He did find the mindless banter relaxing and mentally blessed the younger man for it, though he shuddered at the thought of drinking a cup of tea with five lumps of sugar in it.
Turning to join Lionel at the table, he slid the cup and saucer in front of his friend, eyebrow arched. “Are you really going to put all five of those in that one small cup of tea?” he asked.
“Naw,” Lionel answered carelessly, dropping three cubes into his cup and popping one into his mouth with an irreverent grin. “Mmm.”
Rupert started at him, aghast. “That’s…that’s disgusting,” he whispered in horrified awe.
“Come on, G, it’s just like candy, only plain. Can I use your spoon? Now: You. King, dragons, a niece…” he waved one large dark hand between them. “Let’s discuss…”
Frigid air whipped and tangled Nadya’s hair in a sinuous blonde flag, tugging and snapping against her neck and no doubt Reilly’s face. Or it would have gotten in Reilly’s face if she hadn’t kept it pressed between Nadya’s shoulder blades for more than an hour. The poor girl was obviously scared to death.
Nadya, however, was in heaven. The only thing that could improve this moment was if Tikan were behind her instead of Reilly. She tightened her arms around the neck of her dragon and grinned.
Had she been alone, she would have laughed out loud, but Reilly was freaked enough. If the other girl hugged her any tighter, Nadya didn’t think she’d be able to breathe at all.
“Your young friend is a phoenix. They have other strengths.
At first, Nadya looked right and left, trying to figure out where the voice had come from. This was going to take some getting used to. “I really don’t know much about what phoenixes do,” she responded finally.
The voice was silent for several beats. Finally, she heard, “Perhaps you should ask your friend, little one, as I am not at liberty to tell. If you were under attack by one, I would be compelled to share their secrets with you, but as it is, it isn’t necessary.”
“So you can’t tell me things about other familiars, then?”
“It is why advisors are placed with different familiars. Your strengths are what they are. I as a dragon, embody those strengths. That is not to say that you do not have qualities of other familiars, of course. The world is a wondrous place and each creature shares in a bounty of treasures, some tangible, others not.”
Nadya smiled. “That’s lovely. And I really like your voice. It makes me feel calm inside.” She could feel warmth wrap around her mind and all the way down to her toes. It might have been strictly emotional, but she felt as if she’d been wrapped in a warm blanket. “Do you have a name?” she queried. “It just seems wrong to go around calling you Dragon all the time.”
A comfortable laughter filled her head and she couldn’t help laughing along with it. Not the “throw back your head in sheer joy of the moment” that she’d felt shortly before; this was more like laughing with a friend.
“Truly, little one, we do not call ourselves dragons at all… but our language is far from anything you could pronounce—perhaps the same as a birdsong or the sound of the wind. While I can speak with you in this way using your own language, I do not know if my name has a translation.”
Nadya digested this quietly. She very much wanted to know her dragon’s name. She wouldn’t like to have to make one up. That task seemed daunting not only because she didn’t want to insult the dragon. There were so very many emotions welling up in her when she spoke to her dragon…her ruminations were cut short by an alarmed shout to her right.
Her entire world seemed to tilt to the left and she clung even more tightly to her dragon’s neck, Reilly's arms tightened still more until she nearly had Nadya in her lap.. Nadya hadn’t thought the other girl could get any closer but somehow she had.
Something whizzed by them, sending the other dragon carrying Tikan, Jason, and Luke peeling off to the right in an aerobatic loop that no doubt had their stomachs dropping dramatically.!
Reilly’s face pressed so hard against Nadya’s back that it hurt. Nadya wondered if the girl could even breathe, though she was grateful that Reilly wasn’t punctuating her panic with screams. It was all Nadya could do to hold it together as it was.
“Fear not, little one, it will take more than those clumsy weapons to catch us.”
An explosive splash ahead of them had her swallowing bile. Someone was shooting at them…she dared not look around to see who or what. The slightest loosening of her arms from the dragon could cause her own and Reilly’s ugly death. Hitting the water from this height would be like hitting a marble wall, or so said her physics teacher. She had no desire to test it.
No sooner had that thought formed than Nadya saw something that made her blood run cold and her eyes tear up, a scream trapped in her throat. One arm loosened for a second before the necessity of holding on recalled itself to her. Oh, how she hoped that Reilly was too frightened to look around.
Tikan’s mouth was in his throat as he gripped with both arms around the thick neck of his dragon. He dared not look behind him, though he worried for Jason who had been so blasé about reclining on the dragon’s back as they flew. He’d been like a kid on a funfair ride, gleefully pointing out dolphin pods and jumping swordfish as the dragon flew over the wide expanse of ocean. Now, Tikan couldn't’ even be sure the other boy was still behind him. Luke was frozen to Tikan’s back and in no way capable of telling him anything. The other boy might not even know if Jason had fallen when the dragon had twisted away from the incoming shot.
They had all knwn that they were under threat, but suddenly it was so much more real than it had been. One minute they were planning an escape from his parents’ home, which seemed no more threatening or serious than any other time he’d done it, and now, they were being fired at by person or persons unknown. And if the size of the explosion against the water was anything to go by, whoever it was had every intention of finishing the job in one go.
“Luke!” Tikan tried, getting no response. Possibly that was because his voice was hoarse and small, ripped away by the wind before it's feeble tone could make its way the few inches back to Luke’s ear.
“Save your breath, young dragonet,” his dragon murmured. “The one behind you can barely feel your body hum with sound. He is a phoenix and they do not care for the open air in quite the way that we do. But they are fire creatures, so we blend well. Your kraken friend has dropped from my feathers, but do not fear, he will be fine. The kraken is a formidable force. All will be well.”
A spike of terror shot through him. Had Jason truly fallen from the dragon over the open ocean? And he wasn’t supposed to worry? His brain had jammed. He couldn’t respond—no thought would form itself beyond the knowledge that Jason had fallen.
“Pay attention!” his dragon bellowed mentally, a curl of flame licking out in front of them. Instantly, Tikan's arms wrapped tight again. He hadn’t even known his grip had begun to go slack.
The dragon spiraled upright, snout pointed at the sky, and shot upward. An hour before, Tikan had been annoyed by Luke’s stranglehold. Now, he was grateful for it.
A graceful loop later—it must have been graceful, since his stomach didn’t feel like it was trying to climb out of his body—Tikan had an unobstructed view of the vessel that had shot at them. Clearly, it was lining up another shot.
Nadya watched in awed horror as Jason disappeared under the waves. Thankfully, her dragon knew what to do, because Nadya’s entire being was rigid with shock.
“Wake up, youngling!” she heard as if from deep in her mind. Oh, her dragon. Of course.
“I’m here,” she choked out aloud. “It’s just that…”
“Your companion has his own bonded, does he not?” She wasn’t sure if the dragon spoke out loud, but a long lick of flame focused her attention, emphasizing the dragon’s words.
As Nadya struggled to answer, the sea parted, revealing what had to be the largest squid she’d ever seen. It was obviously a kraken, and clinging to it was Jason, shaking his head like a wet dog, grinning wildly with exhilaration.
Reilly groaned and clutched tighter at Nadya’s tunic.
“Can you get him? Should you?” Nadya asked her dragon, as she watched the giant squid skim the turbulent waves below.
“I suggest waiting until all danger is past,” the dragon answered, her tone somewhat dry.
Before Nadya could formulate any reply, the world spun in a drunken kaleidoscope as the dragon wheeled and looped, another blast of flame lashing out, connecting, an explosion rocking the very air around them. Nadya clung to her dragon’s neck praying, begging the powers, the gods, whomever, to protect their foolish little group and guide them to safety.
End of part one >: )