Home > Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(15)

Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(15)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“You weren’t in a swimming suit last time.” Gondo smirked. “You and the dragon were in the water box naked and klukklik.” In case I’d missed the meaning of the word, he pumped his hips in a self-explanatory rhythm.

Heat flushed my cheeks as the goblins tittered. I had to get out of here.

“Freysha, are you ready to go? It’s a long ride back to the house, and Zoltan needs this plant.”

A few giggles went through the crowd as more goblins whispered, “Klukklik, klukklik.”

Zav’s eyes narrowed further, and it looked like he was contemplating incinerating a few of them.

“It is important to get the plant back, but as I was searching for it, I found something that might interest you.” Freysha pointed off into the woods behind the village. It must not have been something that could be tossed on a tray under a cloche. “I can lead you to it.”

“Now?” I asked dubiously.

“Perhaps Lord Zavryd would consider flying the plant back to Zoltan so that he can start? I can show you what I found. Your mother came here before, did she not? With our father?”

The questions piqued my curiosity, but with all the goblins listening, I kept myself to a terse nod. And looked at Zav. He hadn’t mentioned if he had criminals to hunt down—or a female dragon to talk to—but I didn’t know if he would be willing to run errands.

Surprisingly, he was staring contemplatively at the hot tub.

Will you take the plant back to the house? I asked. Nin is there. You can give it to her if Zoltan is hiding in the basement. And can you look at the gnome? If you can cure him without the need for alchemical formulas, that would be excellent.

Zav accepted the plant bag. You do not know this gnome, but you would be pleased if I healed him.

I wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement.

Yes. His name is Ti. He’s Nin’s grandfather.

You will be so pleased that you will acquire a water box for your house? He gazed at me with his eyes half-slitted. His version of bedroom eyes. A proper one that is warm and does not require goblins lighting fires under it.

You want me to get a hot tub? Did you actually like sitting in that one? Even though the jets scrubbed out your lower, uhm, orifice?

I liked kissing you in it.

Oh. My cheeks heated again, for a different reason this time, and I flashed back to Zav pressing me up against that tree and where that might have gone if we hadn’t been interrupted. I liked it too.

I know. Once I convince Velilah’nav that I will not mate with her, we will mate. Finally.

I should have told him that he couldn’t unilaterally decide that for the two of us, but it wasn’t as if I didn’t feel the same way. I’m ready.

I know, he repeated and gave me a smug smile. Was that a nod to how horny I’d been against the tree? Your training is progressing well. I am pleased.

If we hadn’t had an audience, I would have kissed him for acknowledging that.

“See how they look at each other,” a nearby goblin whispered. “They will mate soon.”

“In our water box!”

“One of our kind has never mated with a dragon before. The Ruin Bringer is so brave.”

I cleared my throat and looked away from Zav. Nope. Kissing was not going to happen right now.

“I will go to your house.” Zav stepped back after shooting a dirty glare at the chatty goblins.

“Good. Thank you. Here, take this too.” I put the messy cake in his hands, pieces crumbling and falling to the ground.

He curled his lip as the sweet scent wafted up to his nostrils. “How am I supposed to fly with this?”

“I don’t know. How were you going to fly with a plant in a bag?”

“By storing it in an extra-dimensional nook.”

“Put the cake in the nook too.”

“It will make a mess.”

I scratched my head. “I don’t think magic works quite how I imagined.”

“You still have much to learn.”

“This I know.”

Though grimacing, he walked out of the village and changed into his dragon form as soon as he had room. The cake and the bag disappeared into his nook. Magic flowed from him, and the trees and the canopy parted so he could spring up and fly away.

Freysha nodded to me from behind the crowd of still-tittering goblins. Time to see what she’d found about my mother and father.

10

“Please have your weapons ready,” Freysha said as we walked side by side away from the goblin village and deeper into the sanctuary.

“They’re always ready, but why?”

I eyed the wilderness around us, vines as well as moss hanging from the evergreens and deciduous trees, several of the species not native to Washington—and possibly not to Earth. We had left the last of the goblin paths and were picking our way through dense undergrowth. Without Zav there to incinerate bushes and stumps, the going was slower.

“There is a creature back here.”

“It’s not a Klingon monster dog, is it?”

“A what?”

“Remind me to schedule a Star Trek marathon so I can get you caught up on Earth culture. The geeky part of it anyway.” I waved toward the woods—so far, I hadn’t sensed anything magical, except for the auras of Freysha and the goblins. “This creature isn’t like the one that came through the portal on top of the house and attacked us, is it?”

“It is not the same. It is from my home world, from the wild marshes that are full of very dangerous predators. A trogwarth. They are not dissimilar to your large felines and not usually long-lived, but this one has either been here for more than forty years, since our people left Earth, or it is the offspring of others that were here with them. I cannot sense others in the area, so it may be the last of its kind.”

“Meaning endangered species activists would kick our ass if we killed it.”

“It is not endangered on my world. They are smart, deadly predators.”

As the wind rustled the branches and leaves rattled on the bushes, the sanctuary felt a lot less inviting. The undergrowth rose above our heads in places, making it difficult to see far and leaving plenty of room for creatures to get close. Now and then, I heard small animals skittering through the leaf litter. I hoped they were small animals. The mist had grown thicker, adding to the poor visibility.

“Why would your people have brought them here?” I rested my hand on the butt of my pistol as we walked.

“They are excellent guardians. They cannot be won over by mundane means, but someone with good animal magic can ask such creatures to protect their borders or specific individuals, and they will do so. Earlier, the trogwarth saw me in the distance as I was searching for the plant but did not rush to kill me. I hope it can smell my blood and recognize me as an elf and will not consider me an enemy. Your blood may not be elven enough for it to treat you the same way.”

“Even elven predators snub mongrels. Wonderful.”

She gazed at me. “I am sorry. It wasn’t my intent to snub you. I simply want you to be prepared.”

“Don’t worry about it. What exactly did you find back here that you want me to see?”

“I believe it was our father’s home when he was visiting this world. Some magic protects it and a few others, and they are in good repair. I thought there might be some remnants left behind that would…” Freysha spread her palm toward the sky. “Explain more.”

“What is it you want explained?” I’d assumed she had all the answers when it came to King Eireth and that I was the only clueless one around.

“More about what he did here and about your mother.”

“My mother? Why would she matter to you?” I hadn’t yet introduced the two of them—Mom had gone back to Oregon after her search-and-rescue conference, so she hadn’t seen the new house or met my new roommate.

“I am curious. My—our—father and my mother—” Freysha touched her chest, “—have always seemed more like polite acquaintances than husband and wife. They fulfill all their societal and political obligations together, but they rarely spend time with each other outside of that. It has often made me sad. I like both of them and wish they seemed to like each other more. They’ve both said their marriage was arranged for the good of their families and our people, and I understand that. It happens frequently among the royalty and our leaders—much as with the dragon clans—but I’ve often wondered why they didn’t fall in love. Neither of them are unpleasant people.”

Maybe my father still loved my mother. Was that possible after all this time? If he’d cared that much, why had he left her in the first place? Because of the pending arranged marriage? Was such an arrangement for political purposes truly more important than love?

I tripped over a root as it occurred to me how similar this sounded to Zav’s situation. Dragons might not have the concept of love, but he liked me and was pleased by me. At least some of the time. It sounded like he wanted to keep me as his mate, but what if in the end, he realized he needed to go back to his people and do what his mother wished? He’d emphasized often that he was loyal to her and the rest of his clan, even if they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. What if it turned out that the only way for their clan to become strong enough to fight off their enemies was for him to mate with this female dragon and gain the allegiance of her family?

A depressing thought.

“I do not know if I will find any answers here, but I am curious and thought you might be too.” Freysha shrugged.

I didn’t know if I wanted to find something that would explain why Eireth had decided being a king and marrying a queen was more important than my mother, but I kept following Freysha. We’d come out onto a white pebble path that radiated a faint magical signature, probably designed to keep trees and bushes from encroaching on it. Even though it had to be more than forty years old, the pebbles looked like they could have been laid yesterday.

A granite bench rose up to one side, all gentle curving edges as if it had been coaxed out of a slab of stone instead of carved from it. A muddy paw print on the ground behind it reminded me about Freysha’s creature. The print was as large as the ones Sindari left on the ground. Maybe larger.

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