Queen Dione drew the blue silk curtains aside. Her hand trembled ever so slightly, but not enough that her enemy standing behind her could see. It had been three months since Lord Drake had trapped her in her own castle and she was finally ready to try another escape. The first one had not gone so well. She and her maid had successfully switched places and the Queen had snuck out of the tower and into the village unseen. Having grown up here she knew exactly where to go and hide and made it to the edge of the forest where she knew she could be safe. But then the Shrieking Widow’s cry pierced the night and alerted her escape. She had to admit they were effective, following her every move and continuing that high-pitched shriek that sent shivers through her body. Lord Drake was smart to put them at the edge of the village, alerting him of anyone trying to leave. She had never seen anything like them before and knew that some kind of dark magic had made them the old, shriveled, ghost-hags they were now. Unnatural.
Perhaps that was why the Lord Drake wanted to marry her; she could see magic and, occasionally, touch it. She had been caught and immediately dragged back to the tower and as a punishment for her crime her once long, beautiful hair had been cut short. It had been her favorite feature and he had cut it off as a reminder that she was not in control. But the tall, cruel man standing behind now her didn’t know his prisoner very well. She heard stories of Lord Drake even before he’d shown up at her castle and killed all her guards. He was well known in the east for his reputation as a tyrannical ruler, but he’d always kept to his own kingdom. Until three months ago.
“Have you thought about my proposal?” His scratchy deep voice came from close behind her.
She forced herself to keep breathing evenly, not from intimidation but from fear he would see what she was holding in her hand. She had stumbled upon him while on one of her supervised walks through the garden. Resting on a white Lilly was the most beautiful dragonfly she had ever seen! He was not an ordinary dragonfly that much was clear to her immediately, but she could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the black and silver pattern on his body that was clearly the mark of Ienter. No one else would be able to see that mark but her father had taught her before he died all about the magic of the dragons.
“They can disguise themselves as ordinary animals and insects,” he had told her.
“How will I know when I see one?”
“You’ll know sweet pea. You have a special gift. Just look for the glimmer and light of the magic.” That had been one of the last memories she had of her father. Desperate for help she’d put her hand out slowly toward the creature. He could easily transform and swallow her whole, and she was surprised when he’d climbed into her outstretched hand. She quickly hid him until she got back to her room in the tower. Now, sitting in a tiny flask she held close to her, he sat watching her with unnerving stillness. Waiting.
“I have. My answer has not changed since the last time you asked me,” she responded in a steady voice. It was now or never. Letting the curtain fall back in place she quietly slipped the top off the flask and tipped it until the tiny dragonfly fell out onto the sill. She watched in horror as he continued to stare up at her, completely unchanged. She silently tried to plead with him to transform and help her. As if understanding the desperation in her eyes he starting pulling in breath after breath, slowly growing in size with each intake of air.
“That’s disappointing, but I have a feeling you’re going to change your mind soon e---”
A surprised shout from behind was her queue to get out of the room. Pushing a distracted guard into Lord Drake, she darted toward the door. Another guard quickly stepped in front of her as the rest of them ran past to help their fallen Lord or try unsuccessfully to pierce the thick dragon’s skin with their swords. The Queen wasn’t a fighter so she didn’t try anything fancy. She simply ran at him and pushed with all of her weight. It didn’t do much, however the roar of the dragon behind them startled him just enough that she was able to slip out of his reach and scurry down the stairs of the tower. She knew her once lustrous castle would be in flames in minutes but no one should be forced to marry that disgusting man.
She was past the front doors, racing through the small creek leading away from her castle when she heard a loud noise, like stone on stone. She turned around just in time to see the top of the tower explode and the now monstrous black and silver dragon spread its wings wide. He looked around at the village and her heart dropped at the thought that she may have just brought the destruction of not only her castle but her people as well. The dragon’s sharp eyes continued to scan the area until they finally landed on her. Her blood turned to ice as he leapt from the tower and soared toward her. She didn’t hesitate; she turned around and ran for the forest as fast as she was physically able. She knew if she could just reach the cover of the thick trees the large beast wouldn’t be able to get her in there.
She was just at the edge forests when she felt strong, sharp claws encircle her arms and lift her into the air. She had only been a few feet from the safety of the trees and she almost hung her head in defeat. But she was the Queen and refused to cower no matter what situation she found herself in. She watched the land below go by quicker than she would have imagined possible and the feeling of flying was almost thrilling enough she could have smiled. She would have had she not been on her way to die somewhere, far from where she lived all her life.
Finally the dragon’s decent brought her close enough to the ground that she could see their shadows rolling over the land below. She saw a large black castle that shimmered in the sunlight and had the most beautiful lake surrounding it. The dragon set her down just outside the castle grounds and she immediately darted for the trees. But the dragon was fast and had cut her off before she got more than a few steps. He bared his teeth at her and she backed away slowly, looking for some other way of escape. She was just about to run again when she heard a powerful, booming voice.
“Stop.” She froze and looked around for the owner. A shimmering light caught her attention and one moment she was looking up at the large dragon and the next she watched him shrink and change until a man stood before her. She took a couple steps back in disbelief.
“Don’t run.” The same deep voice commanded. She didn’t think she had the strength to even try. Her mind was reeling at what she had just seen, but she finally stumbled out the words, “But you were a dragon. And a dragonfly before that!” The man smiled.
“One of my avatars,” he replied.
“One of them? I thought dragons only had one?”
“Someone has taught you well. Most dragons only have one, if they are even powerful enough to accomplish that. I am not like most dragons and I have two.” He didn’t sound boastful; he was simply answering her question. She was so surprised at the response that it took her a moment to remember that she was talking to a deadly creature no matter what form he appeared in. She had seen him in action and he had carried her very far away from her home for a reason.
“What do you want with me?” she asked, raising her chin. He titled his head to the side as he regarded her with open curiosity. She had to admit he was very handsome with dark hair and green eyes that were intense as they watched and assessed her every move. She felt like a small animal standing in front of a hungry wolf just before he snapped his sharp teeth and ended her life.
“I find you fascinating,” he said.
“Me? What’s fascinating about me?” she asked him.
“The fact that you can understand me is a very unusual trait for a human.”
“You’re speaking the language of Hiana, same as I am.”
“I have learned many languages in my travels, your Highness, but Hiana is not one of them. You’re speaking in the native tongue of dragons.” The Queen felt the carefully neutral mask she always wore slip out of place as shock and confusion won the battle over her emotions.
“You can also see things other people can’t see. Not many people would be able to recognize the sacred mark upon my back, but I could tell you did. That’s why I went with you.”
“Are you a descendant of Ienter then?” She found her curiosity overruling her fear.
“No,” he responded carefully. “I am Ienter.”
“The king of the dragons,” she whispered in awe. He smiled once more and came slowly toward her. Every feature on him looked human, but there was an eerie litheness about him that reminded her of the way he moved in dragon form. He was extremely dangerous, that wasn’t to be forgotten, but he hadn’t killed her thus far and she was hopeful there was a reason he let her live.
“What do you want with me?” she repeated.
“I’ve decided to keep you. I want to learn more about you and your abilities,” he said stopping in front of her.
“Keep me? Am I to be your prisoner now?” She crossed her arms over her chest as she’d been taught to do when trying to intimidate someone. She very much doubted it would work on the king of the dragons, but she couldn’t help herself.
“If you choose to see it that way, yes. I won’t keep you in a tower though, you’re free to roam the castle grounds, but if you try to leave I will retrieve you and bring you back.” She thought about trying to run again right now, but she knew he was probably right.
“What about my people?”
“They will remain where they are and choose a new ruler.”
“A new ruler! I was born to be their Queen; they can’t just choose another one!”
“Enough. I’ve decided to keep you here and here you shall stay.” Something in his tone told the Queen not to keep arguing. She would settle with being a prisoner and staying alive for now, knowing she would roam the grounds at every chance in search of a way to escape. She would bide her time and keep trying until she succeeded.
*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*