Tuesday Snippet: Unlicensed Sorceress – Chapter Six

unlicensed sorceress 2017Koenigstadt
Hilda Brant
Hilda woke up with a jerk. She was lying on a soft couch in a parlor. It took her a minute to realize she was in the house. Michael was sitting next to her, watching her breath. He was drinking a cup of peppermint tea and the smell relaxed her.

Her last memory had been when Morcant probed her mind. The buildup of energy had warned her that he was going to do much more than probe her memories. It was a bolt of energy that would have seared her mind and turned her into an idiot. How many other new mages had been stripped of their mental powers by the senior mage.

Her blood boiled. She wanted to blast and kill something—anything. She sat up abruptly and stared into the dancing flames in the fireplace. Sassy jumped out of the flames and into her arms.

“Hilda, Hilda” she hissed. Sassy had grown twice her size. Hilda cuddled the fire element in her arms and felt her anger diminish. The fire element fed on her emotions. She felt her anger slowly cool as Sassy fed from them. If Sassy wasn’t here helping her get her anger under control, she could have flamed this house and half of the university.

When she finally stopped seeing red and her emotions were enough that she could control them, Sassy shrank to a small size. She purred and cuddled until Hilda could see this couch, this room, and Michael.

Michael watched her warily. His undine, a water element, was wrapped around his neck in a defensive movement.

“I’m not going to kill you.” Hilda could smell a faint smell of ash in the air. The undine tucked her head in Michael’s neck and stayed there. Hilda felt embarrassed at her lack of control.

“How are you feeling?” Michael paced in front of the small fireplace. Then without listening to her answer, he said, “Rooso is here.”

He was trying not to rub his arm. He used to do that when he was upset. “He brought you here.” His voice rose a little, “and they added more guards to this house. What did you do?”

“They know what I am,” she said. “I wasn’t more than a couple minutes in senior mage’s presence when he tried to burn my mind out.”

“Not good, sis,” he said. “They have more resources than we do. Plus we are in the middle of their stronghold.”

“I’m well aware—” Hilda wanted to shout at him. Instead she lowered her tone so that the guards couldn’t hear her.

Michael interrupted her. “I don’t think you are. This house—” he hissed. Then he waved his arms at the walls and ceiling, “was built to hold wizards. You strike at anything in here and it will rebound on you.”

Hilda gave him a look. She should have known this was a trap. It was built to hold rogue mages. She wanted to curse. She slumped on the couch with Sassy cuddled against her chest. She should have known. It was what she would have done if a stranger had come into her territory. She had gotten soft. There was a reason she had turned away from war and toward civilian life. For a moment she longed for the nice quiet days of ale deliveries and bouncing drunks out of the inn.

“I can’t talk here,” Michael continued, “But I still have friends at the university. You stay here and don’t get into trouble.” There was a quiet menace in his voice.

She admired the glare coming from him. His little nervous habit had disappeared as he took charge of the situation. She smiled. “Okay, we’ll do it your way.”

He looked at her suspiciously. As an older sister, she wasn’t used to giving in to him. Still he took it at face value and left her there with Sassy.

So what was her next move? She needed to find Rooso. It was strange that he was here and without her sister, Mistress Mary Rose. The last time she saw the two of them together, they had been all over each other. Now she couldn’t get that image out of her mind.

Of course she could contact her sister. However, it would take two weeks to get a letter to Mistress Mary, then another two weeks to get a letter back. Then Michael would have to read the letter to her. It would be easier to beat a confession out of Rooso instead.

Before she realized she had made a decision, she was in her room, pulling off her dress, and climbing into her leathers. She added a few knives around her body. Then she climbed out the window and skulked until she was sure she had lost her guards.

It wasn’t hard to find Rooso. Hilda found him in a small student pub outside the university gates. His red hair flamed like a becon as she went straight to his table and sat down. He smelled like he had down enough ale to kill a dragon.

Out the door she could see two guards that had been guarding the gardens. She gave them a respectful nod of the head. Once again they had been on step ahead of her. They must have some sort of magical tracking device on her.

She wanted to slap Rooso when she realized he was flirting with the serving wench. He was her sister’s and not this floozy. Oh yea, no doubt, his flaming red hair, his sky blue eyes, and his grin attracted the fairer sex like bees too honey. They must also be responding to his assurance that he could handle any violence that came his way.

When he moved, it hit something visceral in the female breast. Hilda had worked with a lot of men like him.

Hilda pounded her hand on the table. The serving wench glared. She still left Hilda with Rooso to get her a mug of ale. When she looked at Rooso, he flinched. Then his normal smooth facial expression slid into place. She leaned into him close enough to see the red bristles on his face.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said.

Rooso turned into a teenage boy for a moment. He mumbled, and then sucked down his ale. He slid from the table. She caught him by his arm.

“You aren’t going just yet,” she said with a smile. She put a little of Sassy’s strength into her arm. Since he couldn’t pull away from her, he stepped into her space.

“Feeling a little lonely?” he asked. There was a murmur in his voice that made the female in Hilda think of rooms and beds with satin sheets. It slid over her skin.

“Rooso,” her voice chided him. “Why are you here?”

“It’s a long story,” he said in his normal voice. She had caught him and he knew it. “I can’t tell you here.” He looked around the bar. It was filling up with university students and guards. “You also brought your own guards and spies.”

Hilda grinned. It was a smile with all teeth and no humor. “Want to have some fun?”

Rooso closed his eyes, and then sighed. She knew immediately that Rooso had gotten her meaning. She wanted a fight and it could be with him or it could be with the rest of the bar. She saw the slight tick under his eye when he made his decision.

He turned around and hit one of the guards who had been following her, right in the mouth. “What are you doing with my woman?” He yelled at the top of his lungs.

It was enough of a spark to start bedlam. Tables and chairs were upended. Hilda got a few punches in and her blood screamed for more. After a few minutes, Rooso grabbed her arm and pulled her through the kitchen and out the back door. She could hear the curses, screams and crashes in the alley.

She hadn’t had this much fun in years. In the alley, she leaned the wall. A stitch in her side left her breathless. To her surprise she was laughing. Damn. She hadn’t had this much fun in years.

***

Now for a  little promotion

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2

Hero of Corsindor is now on Amazon kindle for pre-order.

In the kingdom of Corsindor, the prince is lost, the king is dead, and the queen is holding the reins of government against disloyal nobles. They want a puppet to consolidate their power over the land. The queen has only one ally, who is not human.

There are rumors that the borders have been closed. Plus the long-lost prince, who knows nothing of ruling, is returning. Corsindor is being attacked from within and without by nightstalkers.

Shira, a foundling, trained by the Ahrah, Corsindor’s neighbors, is sent find out the conditions in Corsindor. Warrior and child of another world – her job is to confront the demons and reduce the chaos in the world. Will she survive?

Will she be tempted to take it all?

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Free Short Story

the utter truth cover 2017 This is one of those short stories I wrote before my illness in 2003. I had an English professor that used to accept some of my creative writings for class assignments. She was very encouraging except I learned quickly that an English literature degree did not teach plotting and character, or other elements of fiction.

I’ve had to learn those through reading and talking with other writers. So with no further ado, this short story is free on Amazon.com Friday and Saturday. Otherwise it is at a low price of 99 cents.

The Utter Truth

Tuesday Snippet – Unlicensed Sorceress – Chapter Four

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Chapter Four

Koenigstadt
Hilda Brant

It had been a long time since Hilda had slept in a soft bed. She stretched and her knee locked. She rolled out of bed and stamped her leg on the floor, swearing under her breath. Sassy lying quietly in the dying coals of the gray stone fireplace grinned at her. Michael knocked on the door and whispered, “Are you up?”

“Damn it,” said Hilda. “I hate getting old.” Her knee clicked as it loosened up enough for her to walk on it.

She opened the door. Michael leaned against the door jamb with a small smile on his face. “Breakfast is ready,” he said. He turned away.

She slammed the door. To hell if it made noise. She felt grouchy.

Her breeches had been laundered and left on a wooden chair. A white shirt that buttoned up the front sat next to them. Instead of dressing in her traveling clothes, she looked in the carved oak wardrobe. She admired the workmanship that had gone into carving the flowers and hummingbirds in the wood. She had no clue how the craftsman had made the inlets.

When she touched the wardrobe, it felt smooth to the touch. Inside this work of art was a stylish gown that cinched from the back. Next to it was a dark blue cloak. It had been handcrafted for a noblewoman or maybe a mage. She was tempted to see if it fit.

She looked at the bottom of the wardrobe and found a simple shift that she could pull over her head easily. There were no tiny buttons to button or any of the elaborate embroidery of the first dress. It swung around her body and legs and she sighed in pleasure. Even though it was a simple dress it felt silky.

Her stomach started to grumble as she smelled breakfast cooking. She slipped on a pair of slippers and used her nose to find the bacon and eggs. The smell led her down the stairs and into a room across from the parlor.

She saw Michael, Davi, and Kayla eating the eggs. The talk was light and Michael looked relaxed. The cook put eggs and bacon on plate and handed it to Hilda. She sat down and ate like she hadn’t eaten in a long time. There were hotcakes on the table, mounds of butter, and even maple syrup. The hotcakes tasted rich and buttery.

Finally she patted her stomach and sighed. Before she could settle into the parlor with the others, a young man walked purposely through the front door and took her arm.

“Don’t yell,” he said quietly. “You must come with me.”

He took her arm and she could feel compulsion magic course through him. She could fight it, but she was curious why he thought he needed to use that type of magic on her.

So he was lucky that she didn’t hurt him right there. She glanced back and saw Sassy glinting as if she was going to make the leap to land on Hilda. She shook her head no, and Sassy stayed hidden in the fire.

Hilda had a gut feeling that she didn’t want the young mage to know that she had an elemental.

He led her through the gardens with brown leaves on the pathway. He wore a cloak against the morning chill, but she was still in a shift. She shivered through the gardens until he led her to a stone building close to the ground. Fir trees and bushes hid the building. The building could meld into the landscape and you had to get closer to see it.

Hilda wondered why something would look so small and innocuous. With all of the bushes, an enemy could hide and attack. It didn’t look like it was well-protected. There were no guards patrolling the garden and no guards on the front door of the stone building.

But she was not just a retired mercenary. So she looked with her inner senses. For a moment she could feel and smell magical traps. They were so dangerous that the traps would kill anyone who didn’t the proper safe word or gesture. She shuddered. If she had really ambushed this building, she would be either captured or dead within minutes. She wanted to swear. “Fuck’n mages.”

The young man smirked.

Whoever built these traps was more paranoid than her and more powerful. She didn’t say a word and hoped her face didn’t show her anxiety.

She sniffed, but she could only smell the dying autumn. There was no smell of burning ash or rotten eggs. So if her nose was right, she wouldn’t have to deal with a dragon or an undead. At least there was no corruption to the smells. She squared her shoulders and stilled her face. She built her mental shields just in case.

The door opened before the young man knocked. An older man with a huge smile that showed yellow and broken teeth, invited Hilda into a small room with two chairs and a desk. Then the young man left.

The older man pointed Hilda to a seat. He walked around the desk and slouched in his chair. The silence stretched as she waited for him to speak. The silence must have been too much because he looked down at a piece of paper and then looked up at her. Hilda would have given much to know what was written there. But she had never learned to read and had only learned basic math for running the inn.

She waited. She was not going to break the silence. She was not a young mage who would get nervous if some man looked at her long enough. She recognized this interrogation technique.

Finally the older man cleared his throat. She waited for him to speak.

“My name is Morcant,” he said.

Hilda nodded her head, politely.

“I will be discussing with you the unfortunate incident in the forest south of here. But first,” he handed me a piece of paper. “Sign here.”

“No,” Hilda said. “I will not sign something I cannot read.” She stopped her arms from folding against her chest. She didn’t want to look defensive. She gripped the chair arms firmly. Then said, “I want my brother to read this before I sign.”

Morcant’s eyes flickered back and forth. Hilda knew that the next words out of his mouth would be a lie. “It’s just saying that you are a mage.”

“But I am not,” she said. “I have not gone to the mage university and I have not practiced ritual magic. I am not a mage.”

“If you don’t sign this paper,” Morcant smiled. Hilda shudder. Dragons had a nicer smile than this man. Morcant continued. “Then I will send you to the dungeon for dangerous criminals.”

“I have done nothing wrong,” Hilda said, her eyebrow went up. “What are you trying to pull?” She leaned forward. Morcant leaned back just a little. He caught himself, scowled, and then he leaned toward her.

She felt his magical energies ramp up. She wished Sassy was with her because the two of them could overpower this wannabe. She sent a probe towards him on the off chance that she could read something in his mind. He blocked her and the smile wiped off his face.

He sent a probe back. She could barely push it away. She knew he was going to try again, so she reached for her knife. Damn. She was disarmed.

She reached across the desk and grabbed a silver pen. It had enough weight to be useful.
Morcant must have been able to get off a non-verbal spell because she felt heaviness come over her limbs. She fought it hard until she could move her fingers. Beads of sweat roll down Morcant’s face as Hilda tried to move her sluggish body and push the pen into his neck.”

“Enough!”

Hilda recognized that voice, but he shouldn’t be here. The magic in that voice broke the tie between Hilda and Morcant. They both collapsed. Hilda lay on the floor unable to move. As her eyelids sagged she saw two legs and feet. He picked her up and slung her across his shoulder.

As she slapped against his back from being carried out of the room, she saw a healer leaning over Morcant. His face was white and he was breathing shallowly.

“What the hell did you do to him?” said that familiar voice. “Hilda… Hilda.”

They were in the gardens and he had set her down. She looked up into the face of Rooso. She wanted to say “What are you doing here?” but her lips wouldn’t move.

He picked her up in his arms and  carried her like a baby back to the house.

State of the Writer

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2The last week I have been making edits. I have to thank Doris Mace for looking through my manuscript. Many years ago she used to do this for a living. Nowadays she does it for me because she really enjoys reading my work. I’m pretty grateful.

I have to admit that when I am in the heat of the story, I lose things like prepositions. My adverbs love to wander through the verbs willy-nilly. Also since I grew up in the rural West, my “to be” verbs get turned around. Even after earning a English Literature degree, I still wonder if I should have used was or were.

However, I am proud to say that “Hero of Corsindor” is now on Amazon for pre-orders. It will be released on January 4, 2019. This gives me time to re-look at the formatting for the paperback. I should interject that I had to change my word processing program for novel formatting. I was burned out for two days afterward. At this point, I don’t think Word is the program I want to stick with on novel formatting. I used to use Indesign. I love that program, but I don’t love the monthly subscription.

Anyway, in the next couple of months, I’ll put together a release party. If any one here would like to do a release of this book on their blog, please contact me at cynbagley @ hotmail.com.

unlicensed sorceress 2017This is the project that I am working on now. It is the third book in the Hilda Inn’s series. Hilda is in Koenigstadt and finds out that she is not allowed, by pain of imprisonment, to practice magic without being trained at the University. No one is interested in her problems with Lord Barton except a group of youngsters. These youngsters will one day rule.

If you remember Hilda doesn’t know how to read, which is not so bad if you are a mercenary, but is really bad if you are a mage. Plus she is older and has the aches that come from overusing your body at a young age.

I’m at 35,000 words so far and hope to have this written by the end of December, “god willing and the creek don’t rise.” Or in my case, barring any cold, flu, or pneumonia taking me down.

Tuesday Snippet: Unlicensed Sorceress- Chapter Three

unlicensed sorceress 2017

Chapter Three

Delhaven
Rooso Derne

Rooso woke with a soft silk comforter wrapped around him. He reached to his left to give Mistress Mary Rose a deep kiss. The dip in the bed where she had slept beside him was already cold. The sheer pink fabric draped across the four posts shivered as he put his feet on the cold floor.

She was not standing at the window looking down at the gardens. She was not washing her face with the water left in the basin. She rose early most days to keep her little kingdom of whores and thieves in line. He pulled on his pants and went in search of her.

“You are a charming rogue,” whispered Mistress Mary Rose as he strutted into the parlor so she could appreciate his beauty. His red auburn hair flowed down his bare back. His skin was ivory and freckled. He had the slim build of a runner with enough muscles that he could be deadly in a fight. He knew she wanted him and he wanted her.

Her words stopped him. Did she suspect? Rooso gave her a smile with all teeth and she gave him the same smile back. His hands trembled as he poured a shot of whiskey that was on the cherry liquor cabinet. He knocked it back, then turned to face her.

“You are a spy.” The tone of her voice told him that she hadn’t believed it until then. He wanted to pour another shot, but he needed to be steady for this conversation.

“Mary Rose,” he started. “I don’t know what you are so upset about. You should be used to spies by now.” And yes, she had her own spy network in Delhaven. Whether she used that intel or passed it on, he didn’t know. He did know that his masters wanted more access to her information.

It was then that he noticed her burning eyes. She wasn’t as complacent about his profession as she had sounded at first. She rustled as she picked up her skirts and got off the soft couch. She walked deliberately towards him, lifted her hand, and slapped him hard across the cheek.

“Out,” she said. Her voice froze something inside of him. Her actions this morning was opposite from the night before when she had washed him and held him.

“Please,” he could hear the shock creeping into his voice. “Please listen to me.” He wanted to tell her, but all these things he wanted to tell her were locked magically in his head. It was frustrating as he tried to force words past his lips.

“You were seen with my enemies.”

The cockiness slipped out of him. “What?”

“Manny,” she called. The butler was at the door, “Make sure that Rooso is out of here today. I don’t want to see him again.”

Rooso was still in shock when Manny cocked his head and said, “Sir. Follow me?”
Rooso’s clothes were already in a large bag sitting near the front door. He had been blindsided.

Manny deftly took the shot glass out of his hand as he walked Rooso out the door. Manny handed him a cape to cover his half-nakedness. Manny watched him as he pulled on his boots. Then he politely opened the door and Rooso and his bag were on the front lawn.

He wanted to rage and kick the door. He wanted to march into the house and give Mistress Mary Rose his side of the story. But how could he? His lips were magically sealed. It would just be the same as before.

Instead he picked up the bag, swung it over his shoulder, and trudged down the carriage path that lead away from her. Grown men didn’t cry, but their eyes did get dusty.

He didn’t look back.

Instead of using stealth to get to the safe house in the middle of the city, he marched straight there. Mistress Mary, heck, maybe the entire city, knew he was a spy. She was hurt enough that she might send someone after him to kick his ass. He felt a burning in his throat and a roiling in his stomach. He ignored it.

His red hair shone in the early morning light and he didn’t care. Track me. Give me my deserved beating. He wished he had told her before. Now any trust that he had developed between them was gone. He hadn’t known that Mistress Mary would be the woman to force him into submission. He had laughed and left dozens of women. He didn’t want to leave her.

He gasped on the cold air. It seeped into his cloak and against his chest. He shivered. As his ears and nose numbed from the cold, he reached the wooden doorway leading to the safe house. He knocked loudly on the door. After a moment, the peephole opened.

Without a word from the guard, the door opened. Rooso marched through. A young man led him to a room filled with books and a hearty fire in a fireplace against the wall. He was left alone. A wooden chair made from oak and carved with magic symbols invited him to sit.

Rooso inspected the symbols. As he waved his hand over the carvings, he felt no power coming from them. Feeling a little relieved, he sat down. His bag plunked on the wooden floor. Mistress Mary Rose must have packed all of his weapons into the bag.

“Rooso,” said a voice that made his nerves jump. “For a spy, you failed spectacularly.”

Rooso tried to turn his head. It was then that the power in the carvings in the wooden chair took over. He was bound to the chair and couldn’t turn his head left or right. He stared straight ahead.

“Speak,” said the voice. The person stayed behind him so that Rooso couldn’t see him.

Rooso bit his lips. He held his mouth tight. He felt an uncontrollable urge to speak, to explain why he had not fulfilled his mission. He resisted. He tried to move his arms and legs. Then he tried to move his fingers and toes. If he could just move a finger, then he could break the spell that held him.

He continued to fight, but when he tried to breathe his mouth opened. The magician behind him laughed. Rooso had failed to beat the spell.

“She knows.” Rooso finally said. He tried to stop babbling, but that one breath forced the rest out of him. “She has spies.”

He was going to speak anyway so he tried to divert the words coming out of his mouth. He wouldn’t talk about the dragon or Hilda. Nor could he reveal about how he helped seal the well at Hilda’s Inn. He did talk about the black magician who had made a Dragur.

If this magician suspected he wasn’t telling everything, he would use force. This type of force was the blackest of all magics. He could feel the waves of enjoyment coming from his captor.

Then Rooso’s voice changed and he went from babbling to placidity. He felt his eyes droop. He talked of other missions where he had been a sailor. He talked of waves, oceans and sails. He talked of the depths of the ocean and of drowning.

The magician tried to redirect him, but he was lost lost lost in the deep ocean. He fell into the depths of his unconscious and was gone.

If you are looking for some good reads

Before I became a writer, I was a reader. To be honest I am still a reader. I know when I’m not feeling well if I don’t read a book every couple of days. I used to read a lot more and a lot faster, but my writing time cuts into my reading time.

Anyway I wanted to pass along a few works of some sci-fi and fantasy writers that I have either read or I have on my TBR (to-be-read) pile. You might enjoy some of these as well.

phantoms2018
Phantoms
by Stephanie Osborn

Has Alpha One been played?

At long last, Echo and Omega are going on their first real date, and Echo pulls out all the stops.

But when he introduces Omega to a Broadway star, they find art imitating life, as a dangerous nonhuman entity plagues the theater.

Alpha One goes undercover to bring to light what’s really happening. But is the entity after the show’s leads…or have Echo and Omega been played?

***

sugar skullSugar Skull
By Cedar Sanderson

Short Story:

Sally, whose full name was Alessandra Padilla Rivera, and who had been raised by a grandmama on stories of El Cucuy, the chupacabra, and the jaguar god who hunts in the night, knows how hard good jobs are to find, and keep. She has a mother to support, and a new job to prove herself at. A couple of problems, though… She is working in a morgue where strange things are happening. The only person she can talk to is her boss, her mother just turns the television volume up, and her friends are grossed out by her job. But Sally is convinced her boss isn’t fully human…

 

***

highway

Highway to Tartarus
By Holly Chism

Insanity seems to run rampant in the immortal population, and Hades seems to be the one the Fates tap to contain them all; however, this time, Hades, and Kyra, the former goddess of War from Atlantis, have to find and catch the one who’s gone dangerously insane: Deshayna, Kyra’s identical twin, and the former goddess of Death.

 

 

 

***

soldier Like a Continental Soldier
By Laura Montgomery

The starship Valerie Hall failed to reach the terraformed world of its original destination. Instead, it found a habitable substitute where the settlers split into two factions. First Landing devolved into a rude replica of medieval despotism. Seccon might promise more.

Or so hope Gilead Tan and his companions.

Gilead spent three centuries in cold sleep, held there by a First Landing custom that decreed only one sleeper could be awakened every fifty years. Once awake, Gilead freed two dozen of his fellows—all soldiers like himself—and led them into the wilderness.

Close to two hundred civilians still lie trapped in the decaying cryo-cells of First Landing. Their captive slumber haunts him.

But despite its vaunted freedom, Seccon has one rule. No one goes back to First Landing.

Continue reading

Tuesday Snippet – Unlicensed Sorceress – Chapter Two

unlicensed sorceress 2017Chapter Two

Koenigstadt – Interrogation room
Davi Dracson

The gray stone floor blurred as Davi tried to keep his eyes open. He straightened his shoulders instead of leaning against Kayla. Kayla was a dwarf, a little taller than her kin, and his blacksmith. A blacksmith was the only person that he could channel his magic through without causing damage. She also had her own fire and healing magic.

They were a bonded team. She had been running from the bond since her birth. When she had climbed into the dragon nest of gold, where he had been dying, she had bonded with him and saved his life. They were too young to bond and would never have little ones. The bond made them sterile. It also mean that they would live longer lives than normal dragons and dwarfs.

The wooden bench they were sitting on seemed to get harder and he wanted to stand up and stretch. Kayla held his hand with enough pressure that he stayed seated.

He leaned against the stark white wall, looking for some way to leave this little room. His stomach growled from hunger. It had been hours since he had eaten. He had used a lot of magic during the fight with the Dragur. When he had been forced to transform into a dragon in front of the Old One, it had taken the rest of his energy.

He needed to eat. Even if he ate, he needed to sleep for a long long time. Kayla’s normally olive complexion was white and he could feel her tremble slightly. He wasn’t sure if the change in color was from fear or from pain. No one had checked to see if she had been hurt.

He sagged against Kayla and she stroked the top of his head. His eyes closed and he was gone. She gently laid his heavy head on her lap and waited.

When he woke up, they were still in the stark room.

“What?” Davi sat up and looked around the room. He wiped off the saliva that had dripped from his mouth and ran down his face. He could smell an overpowering smell of disinfectant. Under that smell was a scent of old decaying blood. Someone hadn’t cleaned this room too well.

He felt all over and when he looked at his arms, he could see the beginnings of bruises that spoiled his skin in purple and green colors. He was sure there were dark bruises on his face and even his legs. He didn’t check his legs. Why bother?

Plus there were no mirrors in this room so he couldn’t check his face either. From Kayla’s look, the bruises must look bad. He groaned for sympathy.

“Shhh,” said Kayla in his mind. “Someone is watching us.”

He looked for peepholes or openings. When he didn’t find one, he used his dragon senses. Everything around him felt blank. Finally he opened his mouth and tasted the air. It tasted of metal and dirt.

The taste was recognizable at least to him. The wizards were using earth magic to watch them.

He’d give them something to look at. He stood up, and abruptly lurched. His hand banged against the wall as he fell into it. He stood there for a moment braced against the wall with Kayla watching him closely until he could stand without falling.

When he felt confident enough that he could walk to the door without hurting himself, he shuffled to the door. The doorknob was round and silver. He hesitantly wrapped his hand around the door and tried to open it. The door was locked.

He could feel the lock on the door. Something inside of him quested forth and prodded the lock. It was a simple lock. With his dragon strength he could have broken the door wide open. Even Kayla with her magic could have broken the door.

He glanced at her. She ducked her head.

So, there was a reason she didn’t want them to know her strength. He walked around the room, stretched his legs, tried out his whistle, which was a little squeaky and dry. Then he sat down next to Kayla.

Firm footsteps approached the door. There was a click as the door was unlocked and a guard dressed in the king’s colors of red and blue garnished with gold stepped into the room.

“Follow me,” he said. He made an about-face and marched out of the room.

They didn’t have too many choices so they followed the guard into a hallway lit with oil lamps. They could hear their footsteps echo in the hallway. The only people in the hallway was the three of them. When they reached the next hallway, the guard made a military right turn. His moves were precise and practiced.

Davi and Kayla followed. There were several lefts and rights. It was a maze in here and if they had left the room, they would have gotten lost in it. Davi shivered. Would the mages have left them in one of these hallways as they looked for a way out?

Before he could scare himself and Kayla silly, they walked through an archway covered in vines. The daylight was gone, so the ivy had was black and gray with deep shadows. He wanted to duck as they walked through the archway.

“Show no fear,” Kayla whispered in his mind.

He squared his shoulders and didn’t hesitate to follow the guard.

The smell of roses, lavender, and sage teased his nose. He whispered back to Kayla, very sure that the guard couldn’t eavesdrop on their mind talk. “It’s a garden.

A gray shadow emerged from the twilight and stood in front of the guard. The guard saluted and then left Davi and Kayla to their fate. As they got closer to the shadow, they saw another guard, this one dress in the same uniform but in a swirling grays and white that made it difficult to see in the darkness.

A sword hung at his waist and in his hand he held a large stick that glowed at one end.

The glow was blue, a color that wouldn’t hurt the guard’s night vision. Davi could smell the combination of iron and magic in the guard’s weapons.

The idea of combining iron and magic caught his curiosity. Iron negated magic. Before he could ask how they had done that, Kayla gave him a slight nudge. Oh yeah, he needed to look harmless.

The guard turned his back on them and marched down the path. It was an expression of contempt. Or at least if he was a dragon, turning your back on an enemy was a sign of disrespect. Still if Davi had tried to take the guard, he would have been hurt by the others in the garden. They wouldn’t have been able to run away safely.

The moonlight revealed the two-story house. The air nipped Davi’s ears and he kept his eyes forward. He searched for webs of magic around the house. He must have been too tired and too worn out because he saw nothing. This house would be their prison while they were there. The guard knocked on the door.

Another guard opened it. Davi and Kayla walked in.

They wiped their feet on the rug next to the door. An older man in a black suit directed them to a small parlor a few feet away. Davi took in a couple of stuffed chairs, a couched, and a window that looked out into the darkened garden. On the window were twisted bars made of a type of iron. His stomach twisted. If they tried to escape using magic, it would be much harder with all the iron.

He needed to tell Hilda about the iron and magic combination that the guards were using. Much of his tension must have been coming from Kayla because his stomach suddenly quieted down and he could feel her smiling.

Hilda was lying scrunched up on one of the stuffed chairs. A book was lying across her thighs as she was reading. She looked up at them and smile, then straightened herself so that she was sitting.

He slid around the butler, and ran to Hilda. He pulled her up and gave her a big hug.
“What took you so long?”

Kayla was more dignified as she walked to the two of them. Then she put her arms around Hilda and they stood there. “You’ve been gone over 48 hours.” Hilda whispered.

Then she added. “There are listening devices all over this room.”

Hilda pulled away and smiled. “Let’s find a room for you two.”

“Where’s Michael?” asked Davi. At least they weren’t in a cell, awaiting execution. This kingdom still remembered the Mage and Dragon wars. It wasn’t good to be a dragon here, even a dragon that was in human form.

“Michael’s at the mage university,” Hilda, pulled open a door next to her bedroom. It had two beds. “You’ll stay here.”

Kayla wandered around the room, looking at the wardrobes, beds, and chairs. She sat on a bed and bounced. When she was finished bouncing, she went to the wooden chair and sat down. Davi knew she was looking for listening devices. He could smell two of them.

They also smelled of iron and magic.

“Michael won’t be back until tomorrow,” Hilda said. “Are you two hungry?”

Davi’s stomach roared in protest. “Please,” he said humbly.

They followed her down the stairs, turned right, and into the kitchen. A wooden table was filled with fresh baked bread, cheese and butter. Hilda sawed off a hunk for both of them. He put cheese on it and began to eat slowly.

He smiled as he heard Kayla hum in his head. It was strange to be connected to someone so closely. Still he wanted to purr and hum with her.

Hilda pulled some sausages out of the larder. Davi ate until his stomach bulged just a little. Then he drank a pint of ale. The ale settled his stomach enough that he was ready for the pudding.

“A hollow leg,” Hilda laughed as handed him the last of the bread.

He burped and sat back. He could see Sassy in the flames of the kitchen’s fireplace. She cavorted and chuckled.

It would have been perfect if he hadn’t looked out the window just then. A face stared at the four of them. His hair was long and dark, his beard was bushy, and there was a sour expression on his face.

“There.” Davi pointed at the window, but the face was gone. He must have imagined it.
Hilda looked out the window but didn’t see the spy.

Then Davi began to yawn. He followed Kayla back to their room and soon he was snoring.

Kayla stayed away until the daylight touched the window, and then she went to sleep.
Someone had to guard the dragon.