Light My Fire Excerpt
Celyn landed outside Garbhán Isle, the seat of power of the human Southland queen. He dropped the female he held in his tail and shifted to human. He glanced back at the woman and warned, “Don’t try to run away.”
“Run away?” she repeated in that thick Outerplains accent. “Run away to where, dragon? You cannot outrun failure. Disappointment. Misery. So why even try?”
Celyn, reaching for a set of clothes that was left outside the city for the many dragons coming and going, paused for a moment, again glancing back at the human female. “You’re a fun, perky girl, aren’t you?” he joked.
She shrugged. “I am known as annoyingly cheery among my tribe. A curse I cannot escape.”
Unwilling to even think too much on that bit of information, Celyn quickly pulled on chain-mail leggings, a chain-mail shirt, and leather boots. Once dressed, he took the spear from the woman’s hand and tossed it on the pile of other weapons. Then he grabbed hold of the woman’s arm and led her past the city gates. The guards nodded at him and he nodded back.
“So,” she suddenly asked, “will my execution be long and painful or quick and brutal?”
“If the queen had wanted you executed, she would have done it herself. You live because of her good graces.”
“She is not what I expected,” the woman admitted.
“What did you expect?”
The woman shrugged. “A slobbering beast of lizard that deserved to die a thousand deaths. Instead . . . she was quite pleasant.”
Celyn grunted. “So sorry we disappointed you.”
She patted the hand holding her. “Not your fault.”
Celyn stopped walking and faced her. He was about to explain to her how insulting she was being when something about her struck him and he guessed, “You didn’t want to do this . . . did you?”
She quickly looked away from his question before finally saying, “Does that matter? I was given task and I failed task. I failed tribe. Do your worst to me.”
Rolling his eyes, “Lady Misery, get off the pyre. . . . We need the wood.”
“What do you mean?” she asked as they headed down the street.
“It means stop feeling sorry for yourself. Clearly someone sent you here to die. That should make you angry. I’d be angry.”
“First, dragon, I do not feel sorry for myself. I failed and if I must die for that failure—so be it. That is the way of things. And second,” she continued, getting testy, “do not act like you are better than us.” He thought she meant dragons versus humans, but no. That wasn’t what she meant. “You are lazy, decadent Southlanders, living off the poor as only imperialist scum can do. And,” she went on, pointing a finger, “I know you think I am weak because I am woman. But I am Daughter of Steppes. Not some needy, useless Southland female begging for man to take care of her. I can at least say I am stronger than that.”
Celyn laughed. “Aye. That’s definitely the problem. Southland females are so very weak. All I know are weak females. Oh, how they disgust me! The weak Southland females.”
“What I thought,” she sniffed.
The black dragon pulled her into the city jail. Her people didn’t have “jails” or prisons. It didn’t make sense to keep someone around or alive once tribe law was broken. So they never did. But the Southlanders were big believers in prisons . . . and dungeons.
Elina felt confident that prison was preferable to a dungeon. She didn’t like the idea of being placed in an underground cage. It would be too much like being buried alive.
The dragon stopped in front of a poorly made wooden desk. The large man behind it got to his stubby legs, the keys at his side clanking.
“My lord,” the man said, nodding at the dragon.
“Constable. I need to stow this woman here.”
“Here?” He glanced around. “Is she guilty of something?”
“Besides wearing on my nerves . . . yes. But you will not mention her presence to anyone. Especially Lord Fearghus or Briec. Understand?”
“Well . . . ?”
“Good. You’ll keep her here and you’ll keep her safe. I’m sure you understand what I mean.”
“Yes. Of course, my lord.”
“Good.” He placed his hand against Elina’s back and shoved her toward the constable. “Someone,” he muttered to Elina, “will be around to move you at some point.”
Elina turned to ask when that might be, but only managed to catch a glimpse of the dragon and his long black hair disappearing out the door. And she had the uneasy feeling she’d never see him again.
“This way, miss,” the constable said kindly.
With a sigh, Elina followed the constable until they reached a cell. He unlocked the door and Elina stepped inside.
It wasn’t much of a cell, with only a small bed, a desk, a weak-looking chair, and a chamber pot. But there was a window with bars, and the room appeared mostly vermin free. And since Elina normally lived in a tent with eight of her sisters . . . this was actually better than what she was used to.
Sitting on the bed, Elina looked up at the constable, nodded. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” He glanced around. “Is there anything you may need? Something to read, perhaps?”
“That would be nice.”
“All right. And you just let me know if there’s something else.”
He walked out, closing the door, but only until it just touched the frame. He didn’t close it all the way. Maybe he was hoping Elina would make a run for it. But a run for where? Back to the mountains of the Outerplains so her tribe could look upon her in disgust and disappointment? Since she’d been seeing that expression for most of her life from most of her tribe except one sister, Kachka, it would be kind of nice to have a break from it for a little while. Besides . . . how long before these Southlanders sent her on her way? Not long, she was sure.
So Elina settled on her bunk, her back against the wall, and she thought about taking a nap.