It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted chapter 1 (again). I hope you’re ready for Etta’s return! If you haven’t read the first 3 books, this is your spoiler alert warning: Don’t start with this. Read the other 3 first. And with that out of the way, I give you Chapter 2.
The pain in my leg was forgotten as I watched the egg in front of me shake, the cracks spreading. Celeste and I were frozen in place, afraid to move.
The egg jumped, then tipped over, landing on its side. A chunk of the shell fell to the bed. I glanced over at Celeste. Her eyes were wide and she smiled at me. We both leaned in, closer to the egg.
A beak-like snout poked its way out of the egg, followed by a slimy green body with wings, wrapped in a spiky tail. The creature had its eyes squeezed shut. Little clawed legs held each side of its head. Slowly, it began to uncurl, stretching out its legs and wings. The tail extended twice the length of the body. It tried to stand, then fell to its side. Eyelids flickered a few times, then opened. Large yellow eyes with cat-like pupils fixed their gaze on us.
The baby dragon looked from Celeste to me, then back again. It stretched out its arms and legs again, then curled its tail around its body, tucking its head into its chest. It blinked at us a few more times, then nuzzled its head lower, closing its eyes. Wings covered its face, blocking out the light. Soft snoring noises came from the tiny creature.
My heart was full. I wanted to pick the dragon up and hold it close to me. How could this perfect little being be anything like the monster that attacked us under Max’s direction?
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Celeste whispered.
“It really is.”
“You need to lie back down, and get some more rest,” she said.
The dragon was asleep next to me. I shifted back down and turned on my side so I could stare at the little green creature while it slept.
Celeste climbed onto the bed, careful to avoid the sleeping dragon between us. She turned toward me, eyes on the dragon.We both watched the rise and fall of the dragon’s back for a while in silence.
Nothing about this battle had turned out the way we planned. In a way, having a dragon hatch shouldn’t be a surprise. I was starting to feel like I couldn’t control anything.
“Celeste?” I whispered.
She looked up at me.
“Do you think Ashton and Saffron are safe?” The dragon’s hatching had given me a few minutes of respite from worrying about my friends but couldn’t keep it away long.
She sighed. “I don’t know, Etta.”
I squeezed my eyes shut, hot tears burning behind them. I felt so helpless. My leg wasn’t going to let me go anywhere anytime soon. “What are we going to do?” I opened my eyes and looked at my friend.
Her forehead creased in concern. “I don’t know.”
Voices sounded from outside my door and I pushed myself as close to sitting as I could. Celeste jumped from the bed. The dragon pulled its head from under its wing and quicker than I thought possible, moved to the edge of the bed, then glided down. It crawled under the bed where it stayed hidden out of sight. My heart raced. Who was it?
The door burst open and relief flooded through me. Charles, Madame Lyndsey, and two more members of my guard entered my room. They paused after crossing the threshold and bowed.
“It’s so good to see you,” I said. “Please, come in.”
Charles wore a dangerous expression on his face. His eyes were darker than usual and his lips were pressed together. He was the first to my bedside. Dropping to his knees, he rested his forehead against the edge of the bed. “I’m so sorry, your highness.” He lifted his head. “We let you down.”
“No.” I shook my head. “You didn’t let me down. We never stood a chance. We wouldn’t have gone in against a dragon. We were not prepared.”
His eyes traveled to my extended leg and I followed his gaze. It was still red and puffy. I’d be wearing the scars from this battle for the rest of my life.
“You should never have been hurt,” he said.
“Charles,” I reached a hand toward his shoulder. “I’m going to fight with my people. I’m going to get hurt. Please don’t worry about me.”
He nodded but didn’t relax his expression. Madame Lyndsay joined him by my bedside. She lowered her face to look at my leg. “It looks like it’s healing well.” She turned to Celeste. “Well done, Celeste.”
“Your highness, I know we are still missing people, but I must insist that we reestablish the wards around the castle. We are in no position to protect ourselves if we are attacked.”
I bit down on the inside of my cheek. “Has anybody heard from Ashton or Saffron?”
She shook her head. “We can’t continue to wait for them.”
I knew she was right. If they were alive, they could be hiding somewhere, injured or biding their time. Who knew how long it would take them to find their way back here. If they weren’t alive… I didn’t even want to think of what that would mean.
My throat felt dry and it was difficult to get the words out. “Go ahead,” I said. “You can put up the wards.”
She bowed. “Celeste, I’ll need your help. There are only a few sorcerers here. We’ll need all of us to make the spell work.”
Celeste offered a weak smile then slid off the bed, following Madame Lyndsey toward the door.
“Wait,” I called after them.
Both women turned to look at me.
“We need to have a council meeting. I can’t move so can you gather everybody? We will meet in here.”
Charles walked out behind them, leaving me alone in the room. Pressing my palms against my temples, I tried to calm myself. Ashton and Saffron had to be safe. They were out there somewhere. What would I do without them? It was too much, I didn’t even want to consider the worst.
I slammed my fist against he bed, causing my leg to bounce. I winced at the pain. A small chirp from below me caused me to turn my head. The little dragon was out from under the bed, staring up at me, head tilted to one side.
“What are we going to call you?” I said. The dragon turned its head the opposite direction, locking its large yellow eyes on me. It took a few steps, dragging its long tail behind it. I smiled. “Maybe we should call you Oura. It means “tail”.” The dragon lifted its chin and continued to stare at me. “Do you like that name?”
With a giant leap and two flaps of its wings, it found its way back to the bed. Curling up on the pillow next to me, the little dragon resumed its sleeping position. Head under wing, it began to snore.
“Oura it is.”
Celeste returned to the room with a jar of salve and some fresh bandages. “Time to clean those up.”
The dragon lifted its head and let out a grunting, squeaking sound before setting back to sleep.
“What do you think of Oura for the dragon’s name?” I asked as Celeste sat next to me.
“That’s the ancient’s word for “tail”, right?” She used a bandage to apply salve to my wounds.
I winced and looked away from my leg. “Yes.” The word came out through gritted teeth.
“I like it.” She looked over at the dragon. “What do you think? Little Oura?”
The dragon opened one eye, looked at us, then folded its wing over its face. We both laughed.
“Tired dragon,” I said. Then I realized I had no idea how a baby dragon was supposed to act. Or how we were supposed to feed it or care for it. I didn’t even know if Oura was a boy or girl. “Do you know anything about caring for a dragon?”
Celeste paused halfway through wrapping my wound with a bandage. “No, I don’t. I suppose we better find out so we can keep her safe.”
She shrugged. “Seems like a girl dragon to me.”
“Where can we find information about dragons?” I asked.
Celeste tucked an edge of the bandage to finish it off, then put the lid back on the jar of salve. She set the extra bandages and jar on the little table next to the bed. “I suppose it would be Gallia. The Sorcerer’s Guild in Gallia has the largest library in the known world. I’m sure they have books on dragon care.”
I nodded. That made sense. Our sorcery library had been burned down shortly after the king had taken control. I would guess the only works on sorcery that had been spared would be in his personal library.
“You’re going to have to go,” I said. “We have to take care of Oura and I’m not in any condition to travel. I can send a white raven to my uncle, see if we can get a portal.”
She shook her head. “No need. I can teleport to my parent’s house. From there I can walk to the palace. It’s nearby.”
Teleport to her parents house. What would that be like? To just go home to see your family? A twinge of envy registered in my mind. “It’s decided, then. You and Oura will go to Gallia so you can learn to care for her.”
Celeste’s brow furrowed. “What about you? I can’t leave you here alone.”
Alone. A lump rose in my throat. I’d been distracted by the baby dragon, giving me a few minutes to not worry about my missing friends. “Ashton and Saffron will find their way back. It might take a bit longer since they can’t teleport, but I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”
“Etta.” Her look of concern deepened.
“I’ll send out a search party if they aren’t back in two days.” I was trying to be strong. Trying to hide how afraid I was that I’d never seen any of them again. I looked down at my inured leg. “Celeste, do this for me, please. I can’t do anything until I heal more. We’ve put a ward up and we aren’t going to be attacking anybody any time soon.”
“I’m not going anywhere tonight. I’ll leave tomorrow. And I’m not staying long. Just enough time to find out what I need to do to keep Oura safe.”
I nodded. “That sounds fair.”
A knock on the door sent Oura scrambling off the edge of the bed again. She glided down, transparent wings outstretched, then crawled under the bed.
Celeste walked to the door and opened it a crack. After a moment, she pulled it wide and Madame Lyndsey, Yancey, and Charles walked in. The three of them paused at the doorway.
Madame Lyndsey took a step forward. “We’re here for the council meeting.”
“Of course,” I said. “Please, pull up some chairs.”
Celeste claimed on the bed and sat next to me, the others carried over chairs from the siting area.
“Thank you for coming,” I said. “I know it’s untraditional for a queen to host her council in her bedroom, but we have never done things the traditional way, have we?”
The people seated around me smiled, but they looked forced. We’d been through too much in the last few days. “First, thank you all for staying with me. What we are doing…” I swallowed back a sudden lump that had risen in my throat, making my voice crack. “What we are doing is important. It may seem like hope is lost, but I’m asking you not to give up.”
“Your highness, you know we support you, but it’s going to be difficult to overcome this. Difficult to find anybody willing to help us fight. We lost most of the Gallic army,” Madame Lyndsey said.
“I know.” I looked down at my outstretched, bandaged leg. “I’m asking you to not give up on me. We have to come up with something different. Something new.”
“I don’t know if anything will work,” Madame Lyndsey said. “We don’t even know where all of our sorcerers are.”
I bit down on my lip and clasped my hands together. Ashton was out there somewhere.
“I’m sorry,” Madame Lyndsey said. “I know Ashton is still missing.”
“I know things seem like they won’t improve, but hope is not lost.” I nodded to Celeste.
Understanding my silent request, she climbed off the bed and ducked her head under it. The others in the room craned their necks in bewilderment trying to see what she was doing.
When Celeste stood, she held Oura in her arms, fingers stroking the back of the baby dragon. Oura was alert, bright yellow eyes darting from person to person.
Madame Lyndsey gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. My guards stiffened, then leaned in to get a closer look.
“Is that?” Yancey looked at me, jaw dropped.
“It’s a baby dragon,” I said. “Celeste is going to care for her, get her strong, and keep her safe.”
A hush fell over the room as everybody stared at the dragon. The tiny creature climbed up Celeste’s arm and perched on her shoulder, watching the assembled group.
“Are you going to train it to fight?” Madame Lyndsey asked.
Celeste put a protective hand over the dragon. “Only if she wants to fight. We don’t even know if she’ll want to stay with us. Dragons are wild animals and we know so little about them.”
“Celeste is going to Gallia, she’ll learn how to care for the dragon then return to us. The rest of us, we need to start thinking of some way to finish this war once and for all. Something that nobody will expect. Something that we can do with very limited resources. I’m done watching people die. We have to figure out how to end this our way.”