Ok, so I’m not being very patient. I can’t wait to share these with you. So, I’ll be posting a new chapter every two weeks on Saturday until the book is published. (Don’t forget, comments really do inspire me to write faster…just saying…)
Find previous chapters HERE
She squinted against the dust kicked up in his wing-wind. He was not angry with her. Surely he would not try to grab her again, as he did before. Surely not.
April landed directly between his eyes and pecked his snout. “It was Collins. He kicked Rumblkins for no reason. He grabbed at me and knocked Elizabeth to the ground, hurting her shoulder and nearly landing on me. He wants me locked in my cage and tried to forbid Elizabeth from talking to the children about dragons and the Blue Order. He is hostile to dragons and all things related to us.”
Elizabeth grabbed Longbourn’s face and pulled it toward her. “Do not bother yourself with these matters. It is nothing I cannot handle.”
“Why are you defending him? You detest the man. He made you afraid of him today! You cannot handle him.” April rose off Longbourn’s snout and zipped back and forth above Elizabeth.
“What did he do to make you afraid?” Longbourn extended his wings again. He exposed his fangs, a tinge of ocher formed at their tips.
Apparently he was the only one allowed to make her afraid.
Pray let him not roar again. She covered her ears.
“She ran from him into the woods.” How kind of Rustle to make mention of that.
She covered her ears against another dragon bellow.
“Why did you run?”
“It was a simple misunderstanding. Entirely my fault. I will talk to him about it, and it will all come to naught.”
“When he could not shout at her, he kicked Rumblkins.” Rustle sounded like little Daniel tattling on his siblings. Perhaps that was where he had learned the habit. In any case, it was hardly helpful.
“We are all afraid of him and afraid for her. He has already hurt one of us. It is only a small step from that to hurting her.” April landed on her shoulder and touched her cheek with a wing.
“You are aware that when she marries him, the laws of man permit him that.” Why did Rustle have to be so protective now?
Longbourn growled and scratched the dirt, tearing deep trenches with his talons. “Then I will simply tell him to behave, and he will not harm her. The little man will not dare disobey me.”
Elizabeth clutched her temples. Shaking her head did nothing to drive away the throbbing.
Longbourn flipped his wings neatly to his back and stared at her, like a school master who had just proven his point.
“I understand your desire is to protect me, to protect all of us. But it cannot be handled that way. Not now, in any case. Have you forgotten? He is completely dragon deaf. He does not even respond to the fairy-dragons or their songs.”
“What has that to do with anything?”
“If he is to be made a Deaf-Speaker, we must handle the transition very carefully. You know how dangerous such men can be. The process cannot be hurried or all of us could be at very great risk.”
“You cannot keep him in order, so then I must step in and manage him for you.” Longbourn thumped the nearest tree with his tail.
Dead leaves rained down upon them. She fanned them away from her face.
“This cannot be handled by dragon force. That could be disastrous. His transition must be subtle and careful—”
Both things that dragons were not.
Longbourn’s fiery eyes narrowed. “Why must you constantly argue with me? Is this another means by which you are going to try to escape your marriage to him?”
“No, I told you this is something you need not be bothered with. If I am to marry him, then I must be allowed to manage him myself, without your interference.”
“I am tired of you trying to shirk your duties once again. Why must you keep finding excuses—”
“Are you even listening to me? I am not suggesting excuses! Stay out of this. I will cope with it.” She rose to tiptoes and stared in his face.
Longbourn turned to the minor dragons. “Have you forgotten that I am your Laird? You are here in my Keep by my will alone. I will not have you conspiring against me with her. I may very well—”
Stubborn, ridiculous creature!
“You will not threaten our friends! I will not have it.” She stomped so hard her heel stung. “Have you forgotten, the Keeper has as much say in the Keep as the Dragon? Perhaps you need to refresh your understanding of the Pendragon Accords. If you ever threaten them again—”
“You will what?” Longbourn roared in her face.
“Whatever I need to do to protect them—that is my oath as a Dragon Friend and Dragon Keeper.”
“And if I do not accept them?”
Enough of the pompous posturing. He was as bad as Collins.
She pressed both hands to his muzzle and pushed his away. “Do not force me, Longbourn. You well know I do not like it. If you do so, you may find that you do not like the results either.”
He jerked his head back. “You would jeopardize your standing as a Keeper?”
“You would turn your back on your duties as Laird to his Keep?”
Longbourn huffed and stomped. “You wish to find fault with me?”
“No, actually I do not. What I would like most is to be able to oil your flakey hide and brush it properly. I would like to polish your teeth and sweeten your breath, and simply spend time with you again as we used to.” Her throat ached.
Yes, that was exactly what she wanted.
“There is nothing stopping you.”
“Then you do not understand anything at all. I doubt that I can help you change that. Pray excuse me.” She curtsied and turned away.
“Come back. This conversation is not over.” The ground rumbled beneath her feet.
Lovely, he was following her.
“I have nothing more to say.” She did not stop walking.
“I want you, Keeper. Here. Now.” He stomped.
She jumped. “Then make me want to return.” Her walk became a run.
Longbourn roared and thundered after her, cutting her off. “You are my Keeper. You must do as I say.”
“There is nothing, absolutely nothing in the annals of the Blue Order which say such a thing. I have read them over and over to confirm. A Dragon and his Keeper are partners, equal partners, each bringing something to the other. We should need each other, not consider one master and the other servant.”
Or worse, slave.
“Exactly! I need you.” He blinked at her with baleful eyes.
“I do not need to be ordered about by a brute who does not care about me.”
“I do care about you. I would do anything to protect you.”
“Except learn what I truly need.” She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. Why could she not manage to control her tongue?
“Tell me what that is.”
“I have told you, but you do not agree and will not listen. What more is there to be said?” She threw her hands into the air.
There it was, that perfectly petulant draconic look. If she never saw it again, it would be a very good—if very unlikely—thing.
“I understand perfectly. You do not—” He hung his head.
“Stop, I will not have that conversation again. Pray, leave Collins to me. I shall manage him—somehow. You need not to trouble yourself with him.”
Longbourn grumbled deep in his throat. “Very well.” He nudged her with his snout.
No doubt he wanted scratches and to be told what a lovely fellow he was.
“Thank you for listening to me.” She gave Longbourn a quick pat and scratch.
Rumblkins appeared at her feet, looking very worn. She picked him up and held him to her chest. Oh, he was a heavy little fellow.
“Excuse me, now. I must return to the house and deal with Rumblkins’ injuries.” And the one who caused them.
He snorted and muttered, but did not follow, as she hurried back to the house.
Just beyond the woods, April caught up and landed on her shoulder. Rustle flew lazy circles over her head—the only way to fly slow enough to stay near her.
Elizabeth paused near a fallen tree and sat down, settling Rumblkins in her lap.
“He is a preposterous, grouchy old lizard. How could he think revealing our true nature to Collins would do any good at all?” April settled into Elizabeth’s hood and pulled a fold over herself.
“That, dearling, is why I did not want you interfering. I know you were trying to be helpful and thought you were doing right, but pray, do not be so helpful again. You must trust me to deal with Collins and with Longbourn.”
Rustle squawked overhead. “There was no reason to think Longbourn would resort to such drastic action.”
“I must disagree with you. You do not know Longbourn as I do. He is apt to be rash and unthinking. He prefers to do things in the easiest way possible, not necessarily the wisest. Usually I can dissuade him from most reckless ideas—over the years I have learned. But he can be stubborn. The situation is so dangerous right now, I cannot afford—we all cannot afford—to incite his stubbornness. Pray leave him to me.”
Why did it seem that every difficult male on the estate should be her problem to manage? She massaged her temples.
“I was given to believe that major dragons were by their nature sensible creatures.” Rustle scratched the side of his head with his talons.
“They would have you believe so, but they are not any more sensible more than most men. Some are very wise and trustworthy, and some … some are not.”
April tucked her head behind Elizabeth’s ear and cuddled. “I am sorry. I did not mean to make things worse.”
Elizabeth petted Rumblkins with one hand and patted April with the other. “I know. You were afraid, and that does not leave anyone thinking clearly. It will all be well. Somehow. I know it will be.”
“Gardiner and his wife should know what has happened. All of it.” Rustle pulled himself up very straight as if to emulate Longbourn’s authoritative stance.
It was an admirable attempt, but honestly, he looked a little silly, like a little boy aping his father.
“I suppose there is little chance you would be willing to keep it to yourself?” Elizabeth tried not to sigh.
Rustle cawed and dipped in front of her. “Certainly not.”
“Pray then, just give me this evening—you can tell them in the morning. I need just a few hours of peace.”
“I will do that much. But you will still have to explain Rumblkins’ condition.”
“I am sure Hill has already let the whole house know her favorite’s plight. There will be little left for me to explain.” She stroked Rumblkins furry head. “How do you feel?”
“Tired and sore and hungry. Longbourn might have a good idea, though. Collins might well suffer an apoplexy on seeing him, and die. I would not complain about that.” He pressed his head against Elizabeth’s hand and purred.
“While the idea may have some appeal, I doubt it could work out so very simply. The next heir would have to be found. He might well be even worse.”
“The estate would not go to you on his death?”
“No, that is not the way the laws of men work.”
April and Rustle squawked an offended note.
“They are stupid.” Rumblkin’s long, scaly tail lashed back and forth, then wrapped tight, around her waist.
“I have had the same thought often enough.” She rose and lifted Rumblkins to her shoulder. “I need to get you home.”
Hill met them in the garden, swinging between delight that Elizabeth had found Rumblkins and outrage over Collins. With Hill’s help, Elizabeth prepared the promised poultice for Rumblkins’ bruises, and a tea to ease his discomfort and speed his healing.
He complained that it tasted funny, but with come coaxing and some dried cod from Hill, he drank it down and settled into his fireplace basket. A few minutes later, he purred very happily.
“Do you think it wise for me to bring his basket to my room tonight, Miss? I know Collins won’t be going in there at all.”
Rumblkins mrowed and flicked the tip of his tail, almost as though he suggested the idea himself.
“I think he would like that very much.”
Hill was spoiling the tatzelwurm awfully, but it made them both so happy—and the house and garden so free of rats—that it was difficult to find fault.
“Very good, then. Come along, and we shall keep you away from that horrid man.” Hill grunted as she lifted the basket and trundled out.
That horrid man. The sentiment summed it up very well.
At least Rumblkins would recover soon. Hill would probably carry a grudge though, and given that the house would be Collins’ someday, that could be a problem.
But a problem for the future. There were enough to contend with now.
Elizabeth scrubbed her face with her hands. It would be dinner time soon, but the thought of food was revolting. She asked Cook to inform Mama that she was unwell and would not be coming down for dinner and trudged upstairs.
Sleep. That would clear her head. In the morning, she would think of something.
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