Chunk Wendig posted a flash fiction challenge that the story must include a dragon. As a fantasy romance writer, I took this opportunity to work on an idea that has been percolating for a while.
“Errand boy. Do I look like an errand boy?”
I like market day. I don’t mind bringing back supplies.
“Only because Kassia brings you sugar cubes. Whoever heard of a dragon with a sweet tooth?” Ceric asked as the cold thin air ruffled his dark hair.
The silver dragon snorted and rolled through the sky.
Ceric cursed and concentrated on staying astride Xensnisir as they soared over the sprawling farmers’ fields, the thick forests, and the high cliffs.
You just wish she brought you sugar cubes. And she would if you’d ask her.
Ceric’s chest tightened as he glanced back toward the cliffs and saw the breeze tangle Kassia’s hair as she watched him and Xensnisir swoop through the darkening sky.
“She’s there again,” Ceric muttered.
She is most nights.
“She should be safe inside her house. The sun’ll set soon.”
She comes to watch us.
The dragon spun through the air, dived, and then darted back into the clouds.
You would miss her if she did not come. I gave her a reason to keep coming.
“We need to get these supplies back to the Heights, remember?”
We could take her home first to make sure she gets there safely. I would like to feel her on my back.
“I bet you would.” Ceric snorted.
You would like to feel her, too.
He started to argue, but knew it was foolish to lie to a creature that read his thoughts. “She’s Farmer Ennis’s youngest daughter.”
You say that like it means something.
“He doesn’t like dragons.”
No, he doesn’t like their riders. But it’s not him I want on my back.
“It doesn’t work that way.”
It could. You desire her, and she returns your interest.
“Maybe. Possibly. But that doesn’t matter.”
It’s all that matters.
He thought of her luminous sea green eyes and the pretty smile she saved for Xensnisir. Maybe for him, too, if Ceric thought about it. He’d considered offering her a ride on Xensnisir several times, but disapproving looks from her father and Dragon-Captain Corrant’s edict to reduce strife with the locals had stopped him.
Ceric glanced back toward the cliffs where he could see her outline and swallowed back a surge of emotion. “She would be an entanglement, a distraction, one we can’t afford. Especially with our next mission.”
She could be in trouble. Dark Ones have been seen in the area, but they have learned to avoid us.
Glancing at the darkening sky, Ceric cursed, knowing the Dark Ones would be out soon. Thoughts of what they would do to her if they caught her had him turning Xensnisir around. “We’re just seeing her home. No need for another lecture from Corrant.”
If a dragon could grin, Ceric knew his would be.
Kassia watched from the high cliffs as Ceric and Xensnisir glided past, and her heart leapt as the dragon somersaulted, dived towards the ground and then soared back into the clouds. Exhilaration flooded her as she imagined slicing through the sky on a dragon’s back with a dragon rider’s strong arms around her.
Not just any dragon rider. Ceric Mason.
A smile curved her lips as she remembered him and his dragon helping with the harvest when the rains came early, and when he’d searched through the night and risked the Dark Ones to bring little Lyra home.
Kassia’s mother warned dragon riders only led to a belly full of child, heartbreak, and shame. Her mother might be right; a dragon rider was purported to be the reason why her cousin Dana’s first child had come only six months after her marriage.
But Kassia’s heart still flew when she saw Ceric.
Foolish to feel anything for a dragon rider. Strong, handsome, and guardians of the lands, they had their choice of partners and were known philanderers. Some said it was the dragon bond that drove them to infidelity, others that they took advantage of their position. Either way, the dragons and their riders were all that stood between farmers like her family and the Dark Ones.
Shivering at the thought, Kassia turned from her perch on the cliff and hurried along the wooded path toward home.
In an attempt to lighten her spirit, she entertained a dozen excuses for talking to Ceric the next time he was at the market and dismissed each in kind.
The encroaching darkness froze such silliness.
The dragon and his rider had come back later than usual, and she’d stayed longer than normal on the cliffs watching their antics. She cursed herself for losing track of time and prayed for Thalia to watch over her.
Darkness fell faster among the trees than it did in the open grasslands by her house.
Things stirred in the shadows, and Kassia’s heart thumped against her ribs as she hurried along the path.
Not too fast, she cautioned herself. Movement lured the Dark Ones almost as much as the scent of human blood.
A branch snapped in the trees behind her, and then a second. The musk of rotting leaves followed her and fueled her fear.
Night sank in around her as the last rays of sunlight painted the land outside the forest crimson. Her breath caught as the sounds slunk closer, and the scent made her stomach churn.
A rustling ahead and to her left. They were circling around her.
Fear slid like ice through her veins.
Without thought, without direction, she flew down the path. Going home would only lead them to her family and their livestock. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, do that.
The cliffs. If she jumped, the Dark Ones wouldn’t feast on her, and there was something to be said for that.
As she clambered over a log, it leapt out of the darkness. She raised her arm to shield herself, and its claws raked across her, tearing through muscle and grinding against bone.
She screamed and fell to the ground, the beast’s momentum carrying it over her head and slamming it into a tree.
Blood soaked her shirt and dripped on the ground.
It stood and grinned, its razor sharp teeth glinting in the twilight as its forked tongue licked the blood from its claws.
The smell of rotting leaves intensified as more things shifted and stirred. She wanted to look behind her, but that would expose her back to the one that had already tasted her blood. Her right arm hung at her side, and she balled the tatters of her shirt to press against the gaping wound. The bleeding slowed, but the scent of her blood stained the air.
Surrounded. She could hear them closing in on her.
Dark Ones preferred to eat their prey alive and used the screams to lure other humans, other prey. Thalia hadn’t answered her other prayer, but she said another and begged for a quick end.
She swallowed a scream as a strong arm looped around her waist and a silver sword hacked the Dark One opposite her in half.
The slithering in the forest paused as they assessed this new threat.
With dragon strength, Ceric lifted her and darted back through the forest, using surprise and his inhuman speed to gain distance.
The Dark Ones stirred behind him, snarls and gnashing teeth giving chase.
Kassia’s good arm tightened around him as she buried her face against his chest and thanked Thalia.
They burst through the forest, and she heard a great inhale then felt the whisper of heat.
Shrieks and howls rent the night as dragon fire engulfed the things following them.
More come. The blood calls them.
“I know,” Ceric said as he levered himself and Kassia onto Xensnisir’s back.
“Know what?” Kassia asked.
Ceric shook his head. “Anything we can do?”
If her wound is not tended soon, she will die. We will burn the Dark Ones once she is safe.
“Then get us outta here.”
The dragon obliged, and with two powerful beats of his wings, they were soaring over the top of the forest and back into the clouds.
His heart steadied as the cool breeze tousled his hair and his breathing calmed. Sucking in the cold, bracing air, Ceric cradled her against his chest.
The Dark Ones had almost gotten her. Almost.
A curse stroked his tongue, but he bit it back as he looked into her eyes. Fear made them bright, and she shivered against the heat of his chest. He tightened his arms around her and stroked her butter-colored hair to comfort her.
“If I die,” she whispered, “at least I got to ride a dragon.”
“You don’t get to die. Not on my watch.”
She smiled at the arrogance her father warned her about. But Ceric meant it. He wanted to protect her, to keep her safe, and he was doing everything in his power to accomplish that.
Death stalked her despite Ceric’s efforts, and she silenced thoughts of her father’s recriminations as she enjoyed the rich scent of her dragon rider, reveled in the feel of his strong arms wrapped around her, and exhilarated at the bump of the air currents.
She was flying. With Ceric.
A smile curved her lips as her eyes closed.
Ceric looked down at her slack face, heard her ragged breathing, and felt her blood soaking through his riding leathers. He swallowed back a curse as he held her tightly against him.
The healers in the Heights know how to treat Dark One wounds. Especially Maida.
Impatience nipped at Ceric as Xensnisir raced through the sky. Their trip home took half the time it normally did, but Ceric didn’t notice as they finally reached the Heights.
He half slid half fell off Xensnisir, but he kept Kassia cradled against his chest.
A woman in cinnamon robes stitched with silver embroidery hurried out and examined Kassia’s arm.
“Seen worse on new riders not careful around their fledglings,” Maida snapped. “Now get her inside.”
He carried Kassia into the bright temple, laid her on the sickbed, and stepped back. Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned against the doorframe and waited for Maida to try to chase him away. She didn’t.
Whispering a spell, Maida touched her hand to Kassia’s chest, and the farm girl’s breathing steadied even as Maida cleaned the wound and rubbed pungent ointments into it. She then stitched it with silver sutures, whispered another spell, and bound Kassia’s arm in fresh linens.
When she was done, she looked at the dragon rider in her doorway and the enormous beast that lurked just beyond. “She needs rest and to keep the wound clean. And no extended dragon flights. I want to see her again in a couple days.”
Ceric nodded and lifted Kassia into his arms.
“She was lucky,” Maida said. “You and Xensnisir need to take better care of her.”
“Take better care of her? She’s a farmer…” Ceric started, but the surprised look on Maida’s face had him whirling toward Xensnisir. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Kassia’s eyes fluttered open, she mumbled something, and then lay her head against his chest as she shivered.
It will wait. Kassia needs you now.
Ceric’s eyes narrowed, but he carried her out to the waiting dragon.
Xensnisir flew them up to their cave and landed as lightly as a cat.
Ceric slid to the ground still cradling Kassia against his chest.
The dragon bowed his head and nudged Ceric’s shoulder. She will be well again.
Ceric rubbed the dragon’s nose. “She will, and then I’ll kill her for being up there after dark.”
Do not be too harsh with her. She was there because of me.
“And you’re going to tell me why Maida thought we should be taking care of her.”
The dragon curled in front of the entryway to Ceric’s sleeping chambers, tucking his wings into his body as he rested his head on his fore paws and guarded the entrance.
Ceric had never seen Xensnisir so protective. It was unlike his dragon to keep secrets, but Ceric was too tired to pursue it now. The morning, however, would see him getting answers
He carried Kassia to his bed and eased her against the sheets. After gently removing her bloodstained clothes, he quickly tucked a thick blanket around her.
By the Light, she was injured. What was wrong with him?
She is beautiful. I would like to see her naked, too. But not tonight.
“What has gotten into you?”
Xensnisir didn’t answer.
Ceric opened a cupboard and pulled down several more blankets. “Looks like a night on the floor.”
Room enough for two humans. And she will want you close after such a scare.
Exhaustion robbed him of the desire to argue. Ceric stripped out of his bloodstained clothes and slid into bed beside her. Even with a blanket wrapped around her to keep her flesh from touching his, the scent of her whispered around him, taunting, tempting and luring.
As sleep finally claimed him, he could hear his dragon snickering.