Last Dragon Standing Excerpt
“We best walk it, cousin.”
“They’ve got more weapons and troops than I’ve seen in a long time manning the fortress walls. Weapons that can kill from a distance.”
Ragnar frowned. “Do you think they’re expecting us?”
“No. Their weapons are pointed toward the inside of the town. But if they see us flying over…”
Ragnar agreed, glad the queen had warned him. “Good point. We’ll walk it.”
So they changed into chainmail shirts and leggings, leather boots, and surcoats that bore the coat of arms for The Reinholdt — a little something Ragnar had taken from the human warlord on his many trips into that territory; something he’d never mentioned to the warlord’s daughter — and the four males pulled on capes with hoods that could be pulled low over their heads so as to hide their purple and, in the Southlander’s case, blue hair. Once they were ready, they headed into town. To Ragnar’s surprise, it wasn’t as busy as it usually was. Middle of the day and everything seemed to be closed down.
“Where is everyone?” Vigholf asked.
“I don’t know.”
Yet as Meinhard had said, there were troops manning the towers and fortress walls, but none of them even noticed Ragnar or his party. Unusual. If their defenses were so heightened, he’d have thought they’d definitely stop and interrogate four large and armed males.
The Blue pointed to a street that led all the way across town. “I hear people down there.”
As much as he found the royal useless, he did have the best hearing out of anyone Ragnar had known.
Vigholf stared down the street. “Should we go around?”
Ragnar’s first thought was a definite yes, but…
“Let’s go see what’s going on. Be watchful. If the situation looks unstable, we leave. Quick and quiet.”
“What if they need our help?”
The three Northlanders turned and stared at the royal.
“If who needs our help?” Ragnar asked. “The humans?”
“Why would we help them?” Ragnar had always considered himself quite benevolent for not simply crushing humans like ants when the mood struck him. And although he had to admit that some humans did serve a purpose, they didn’t serve enough of a purpose to get him to involve himself in some town drama.
“It may be a bad situation,” the Blue argued. “We can’t just…leave. What if women and children are involved?”
Not about to spend one precious second of his life dealing with this, Ragnar said, “Meinhard.”
Meinhard quickly stepped up to the royal. “Remember what we talked about before we left?”
“Aye, but — ”
“And remember what you promised?”
“But I’m only saying that — ”
The Blue let out a sigh that made Ragnar contemplate slapping him…just to make him cry. “Aye. I remember.”
“Then do as you promised.” Meinhard patted his shoulder. “That’s a good lad.”
Ragnar headed down the street. As they got farther and farther along, they began to see more people. They were near the baron lord’s four-story castle and that’s where the biggest crowd was.
“An execution,” Vigholf murmured behind him. “That explains it.”
“Good,” Ragnar said and pointed to another street shooting off from this main one. “We’ll cut around that way and head out. By the time they’re done, we’re through and out.”
Ragnar headed off, his kin and the royal following. But he kept one ear open for what was going on at the execution. Sometimes, if it was a popular local from town, the occasional uprising might start and those could turn ugly fast. He’d prefer not to get caught in the middle of something like that. Especially with the royal do-gooder bringing up the rear.
They were nearing the corner where they would turn onto the next street when Ragnar heard whoever was running the execution say, “Do you have any last words?”
He picked up his step, knowing that those last words could really get a riot moving along.
“Good people,” he heard ring out over the yard and street, and Ragnar stumbled to a stop, his chest — which hadn’t bothered him since he’d last spoken to the Dragon Queen — beginning to itch again.
His brother and cousin stopped short next to him.
“What is it?” Vigholf asked.
Ragnar ignored him and looked over at the royal with them. The Blue had stopped too, and when he saw that Ragnar’s gaze had locked on him, he cringed.
Stepping around his brother, Ragnar looked up at the permanent-standing executioner’s block. A fresh noose swung in the cool afternoon air and a black-masked bull of a man stood at the ready to do his job.
And there, at the front of the block, wearing more chains than seemed necessary for someone these humans should at least think was also human and with two units worth of men aiming pikes at her, stood one royal who didn’t know how not to find trouble.
With her long dark red hair blowing in the same direction the noose behind her did, and dirt on her cheeks, nose, and blue gown, she held her shackled hands out, her big brown eyes imploring as she said again, “Good people. I beg you to see the injustice you are doing here. The unfairness. For I am innocent!”
“What is she doing here?” Vigholf asked, his gaze fastened on the executioner’s block.
“Performing,” was Ragnar’s only answer. Because that was the only explanation. She was a dragoness for the gods’ sake! She could blast the entire town to embers without even shifting to her natural form and yet she let them put her up there for execution!
What exactly is wrong with these Southland royals?
Keita clasped her hands together and looked up into the skies above, making sure to angle her head so the crowd could see the tears glistening in her eyes.
“I assure all you good people that I had nothing to do with Lord Bampour’s tragic death. For I — ”
“Is this going to take much longer?”
Keita snapped her mouth shut and glared into the audience at her feet. She focused past all those unnecessary guards and on the one she recognized since it was him that had interrupted her eloquent soliloquy.
“Sorry,” he said, the hood of his cloak covering his handsome face. “Go on.”
“Thank you,” she snipped.
Keita let out a breath, looked up at the sky again, and quickly realized, “Where was I?”
“You had nothing to do with Lord Bampour’s tragic death,” that familiar voice offered.
“Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “I am not the one who has done this horrible deed. I am an innocent! And I beg all of you,” she brought her gaze down and opened her arms as much as the thick chain between her shackles would allow, “to save me from this horrid fate that I do not…” Keita’s words faded away and she leaned forward a bit, trying to see beyond the crowd of men and pikes in front of her. After a moment, she asked, “Éibhear?”
Her baby brother, towering over the entire crowd, waved at her and, grinning, Keita waved back. Making sure not to hit herself in the face with that stupid chain. “Éibhear!” she cheered. “What are you doing here?”
“Just passing through,” he called back. “You all right?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” she answered honestly. “Are you going to stay for the execution?”
“I guess I better so we can bring your body back to Mum.”
“Don’t take me to her. She’ll just spit on my corpse and dance around it. And being trapped in the afterlife, I won’t be able to beat her within an inch of her miserable existence. But tell Daddy I said ‘hi.'” Keita clasped her hands together again and said, “Now, where was I?”
She heard her traveling companion clear his throat and when she glanced over at him, he pointed to something that had pushed past all the townspeople and guards and now was right in front of the block she stood upon.
She examined the male. She could smell the lightning that came from within him, knew he was a Northlander. The blue hood of his cloak probably hid purple hair — common among the Lightnings. But his human face was surprisingly handsome for a barbarian. Sharp cheek bones, delicious looking full lips, a strong jaw, and a once battered nose that kept him from looking too perfect. But it was his eyes that made her think she might know him from somewhere. They were blue with shots of silver, like tiny bolts of lightning. They were as beautiful as anything she’d seen, and Keita felt sure that if she’d fucked this one, she would have remembered. She tried to be very good about that sort of thing — especially if she fucked the one-time enemies of her people. Since that sort of thing brought all sorts of problems.
She pointed at him. “Don’t I know you?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, rather than answer her.
“I’m about to be wrongly executed for something I didn’t do.”
“And yet something tells me you did do it. Now get your ass down here.”
“Get my…” Keita slammed her hands onto her hips, the chain nearly not allowing it. Although she refused to believe her hips were that wide.
“You need to go away before I get angry,” Keita told him.
“I’ve seen you angry. I wasn’t impressed. Tell me, princess, did you hit at them with your tiny little fists or use that tail to ward them off?”
When Keita’s skin began to itch and the overwhelming desire to kill everything within a league of her rage flowed from her pores like honey, she knew exactly who this arrogant, lightning breathing, worthless scum of a whore bastard was! “You! I should have finished you when I had the chance, warlord,” Keita told him.
“Should haves. I bet your entire life is filled with should haves.”
“Only where you’re concerned. Because I should have torn your feeble barbarian heart from your weak chest and I should have danced around you in a veritable orgy of blood and pain and suffering that would have called the dark gods to me so they could make me their reigning queen!”
“Keita?” her traveling companion called out lightly.
When he didn’t answer, she lifted her gaze from the dragon in front of her. The entire crowd now watched her in horror.
“I could be wrong,” her friend said, “but I’m thinking the ‘good people, I have been wrongly accused’ speech isn’t going to work at the moment.”
And whose fault was that? The Lightning’s fault, that’s who!