Last time we saw Breanna, she was facing down a dragon.
It was a suspenseful moment, and we were left wondering if she would be able to master her newly discovered powers in time to save herself.
Now, in the next instalment of the series, we find out if Breanna is able to defeat the dragon and what new challenges await her and her friends.
The Dragon roared.
The sound shook her bones and chilled her stomach.
“Leave us!” Breanna repeated, desperate, already able to feel her life being torn from her body.
Then… it stopped. Like the death of a song, the Whisper faded.
Breanna choked on the relief of it.
The silence of her own thoughts returned to her.
The realisation of the world around her flooded into cold relief.
Pounding its wings, the Meadow Dragon roared. Then swooped and turned away. Retreating into the night. Its black shadow against the stars grew smaller. Her breath slowly returned to her.
Broc groaned and rolled onto his back. “What?” he asked groggily, “what did you do?”
Breanna opened her mouth to explain, but in a second the others were upon her with whoops, cheers, and screams of delight.
“Dragon Tamer!” Koax shouted enthusiastically.
Leasha pulled her from the ground and she was embraced by the strong arms of two over-excited Elves and a Fenner.
She wriggled free laughing as the relief overwhelmed her.
The Dragon had gone. At her word, it had gone. She had really done it.
Breanna was a Dragon Mage.
Jubilant, the little group headed back to camp, it was too late to consider going back to sleep and so they packed up and continued their journey. There was an air of exuberance and they discussed the day’s route which would take them along the border between Dragon March and the Elven Hunting Grounds, passing Cassian’s old patrol post. It was a huge distance to cover in one day and there could be dangers from the Druids on the northern side of the river. But their reed boat would be swift on the fast-flowing water.
Their pre-dawn breakfast consisted of dried fish, with a touch of salty oil on a flatbread that was a touch too bitter for Breanna’s tongue, she washed it down with clear fresh spring water which, although it was refreshing, did little to take away the taste of the unfamiliar food. The supplies from the Fenner Monarch were plenty to last the whole journey to the Wizard’s Tor and back. It was far more than the group could carry between them, but there was an indirect route upriver, and so their reed boat sat low in the water heavy with packs and it relieved Breanna that she wouldn’t be going hungry on this journey. Even if the food was all a little strange to her taste.
“I was in Dragon March once,” Leasha blurted out.
“What’s it like?” Breanna asked. She caught a look in Cassian’s eye and he shook his head almost imperceptibly but it was too late to re-call her question.
Leasha’s stopped as she rolled up her bedroll. “I did not see very much of it.” She spoke slowly before returning to her packing.
“‘Twas Druids that captured you as a child was it not?” Broc spoke through a mouthful of dried fish and seemed more concerned with ripping the tough fish strip with his teeth than he was of sparing Leasha’s feelings.
In a bolt of guilt, Breanna remembered the story Cassian had told them as they journeyed together through Meadowvale. That seemed so long ago now but she should have remembered the tale of the Princess’s capture, she should have remembered how difficult it must have been for Leasha to once again pass through these lands.
It had been ten summers back, and Leasha could not have been more than nine or ten summers old. A rebel group of Druids had kidnapped her. Although too young to wear her crown, she had been the rightful Queen of Meadowvale and the Druid rebels had threatened to execute her if a disputed territory was not handed back. But rather than bending to their demands, Leasha’s aunt, Evaline, had amassed an army of both Druids and Elves and together they had taken on the rebels and rescued the Princess.
It was an exciting tale, Breanna had wanted to hear it in full. But she knew that, had she been the child whose life had been endangered, it would not have been a tale she would have been happy to tell.
Leasha looked up from her packing and stared Broc dead in the eye. “Yes. That is correct.” Her voice was bright and jovial as if all that had happened was nothing more than an amusing anecdote. Even Breanna would have been deceived had she not seen the tremble of her hand. There was little hope that poor Broc would guess at her pain.
“Now, tell me this,” her brother swallowed his mouthful of fish and she could see plainly in all his manner; the hand rested against his hip, the other hand waving about and gesturing at nothing, the way his brow furrowed more pronounced on one side than the other; he was ready to launch himself into a detailed interview brutally picking over every detail of Leasha’s ordeal with not an ounce of awareness of the elf maiden’s agony.
Breanna panicked. She turned to Koax, the only one who hadn’t joined the conversation so far; they had been happily packing their things away while supping at a leather vessel the contents of which left a dark stain upon their lips.
“What are you drinking?” she demanded. Her panic giving her a harsh and accusatory tone that she had not intended, and Broc turned to her, his mouth halfway through uttering his first question.
Koax slowly moved the drink away from their lips, their eyes wide at suddenly being the centre of attention. “A simple draught.” They wiped the back of their hand over their lips but the dark stain remained.
“That… That sounds fascinating,” Breanna lied quickly. There was a long painful moment of silence. “May I try some?”
Koax opened their mouth and closed it again. “The draught is not consumed… for the joy of the tongue.”
“Oh,” Breanna replied confused, but now genuinely interested. “So, why do you drink it?”
Koax stared around at the group. All eyes were focused in their direction. “For strength.” Koax nodded and looked down at the leather bottle, as if they wanted to continue their drinking but felt too exposed to continue. Then they shrugged and held the bottle out to Breanna. “You may sample.”
She looked at Koax. The drink was thick and dark. It had stained the rim of the bottle and even where Koax had wiped their face there was still a distinct trace of blackish-blue across their cheek and the back of their hand.
Breanna regretted her decision. Perhaps she should have allowed the interrogation into Leasha’s childhood abduction? Leasha had been the one to bring the incident into the conversation. But no, she couldn’t allow a long and detailed Broc-led investigation into her past. No one should suffer that.
Breanna gave a forced smile and took the bottle. Tentatively, she brought it close and sniffed. She had stirring memories of the potion Leasha had given her when they first met. It had saved her from the poison of the webspinners, but she still had doubts about whether the taste had actually been worth it. But the Fenner draught had almost no smell, just a faint hint of compost and salt. With a quick glance at the others, she nodded and took a sip.
A sip was too much.
“Ugh,” she choked doing her best not to spit it back in the bottle. She wretched, handing the drink back quickly to a grinning Koax and demanding help with an aimless flapping of her hands to no avail.
“Not by the fire, Bree!” Broc admonished, with a wave of his hand, “Throw up over there.”
Leasha laughed. “Are you all right?”
The thick gunk was still in her mouth. It was like death in a gulp, the death of a thousand fish that had been left to rot a thousand years ago. She wretched again determined not to spit the foul liquid out. Cupping her hands over her mouth she forced herself to drink.
She gasped. Spitting for air and shaking her head as if she could shake away the flavour. “That was… ” she said reaching out with clasping, snapping fingers to demand a sip of Broc’s drink. She nodded, grateful for the spring water. “That was… something.”
Koax chuckled and went to finish it.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Leasha said reaching out for the bottle. Koax looked at her. “My turn.”
“Leasha, it’s revolting,” she caught herself, “sorry, Koax.”
“You speak truth,” Koax acknowledged with a shrug.
But Leasha, tired of clicking her fingers like an insolent child leaned over and in one swift movement took the bottle from Koax’s hand and slugged back a decent gulp.
But it was too late, the Elven Princess was choking on the foul liquid and looked set to keel over. Swinging herself around onto her knees, she just about kept from spilling the last of the contents on the ground as Cassian and Broc glanced at one another.
Cassian rolled his eyes and finished nonchalantly carrying the last few items to their boat.
But Leasha held down the liquid and laughed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and looking up, red-cheeked and grinning at Breanna with blackened teeth.
“Your mouth, too.”
Breanna felt her teeth with her tongue they didn’t feel different but the foul liquid must have stained her mouth the way it had marked the back of her hand and her tunic. Breathing hard through her giggles Leasha turned to Cassian and held out the leather bottle.
Cassian held her gaze for a moment. “I’m not fool enough.” He shook his head.
“You refuse an order from your Princess?” She gasped dramatically and Cassian replied with a sigh and snort. But to Breanna’s surprised he leaned across the fire and took the bottle from Leasha’s outstretched hand. He peered dubiously inside as if he could see the contents swishing about.
“You don’t have to, Cassian,” blurted Breanna.
“Oh, no,” Cassian replied. “Never let it be said that I am not Loyal to the house of Aetheling, even if it’s Princess is a tyrant.” He swallowed back the last gulp of the draught swiftly and immediately wretched. He threw the bottle to the ground and stood, grasping his throat he ran to a nearby tree and sank to his knees.
Breanna stood. Unsure if she should go to him while Leasha fell back, laughing raucously and clutching her belly; her lips and teeth still stained by the potion.
It took only moments for Cassian to recover and crawl back to others his pale face paler and a sweaty, his hands and limbs shaking. “‘Tis a fine cordial… better even… than Vingeld wine,” he lied which only further set Leasha off and Breanna giggled and sat back down on the hard-baked earth by the fire, even Koax grinned.
“Is there any left?” Leasha asked through her breathlessness.
“You cannot possibly wish for more?” Cassian asked wide-eyed and clutching his stomach as he breathed deeply attempting to recover himself.
“Broc has yet to sample it.”
Broc looked up from his food, there was barely even a smile at his lips and Breanna wondered if he had seen through her clumsy change of conversation.
“I have much of it,” Koax explained, standing to head back to their supplies.
“There you go,” Leasha said showing the leather bottle that Koax was pulling from their packs, “plenty for everyone.”
Broc glanced at Cassian. “I really am not fool enough. And you can’t order me, Princess.”
Leasha laughed, “But it makes you stronger, Broc.”
“Any stronger and I shall have the rest of you at too much of a disadvantage.”
“Oh, really?” Leasha stood, there was still a smile at her blackened lips but there was also the fire of challenge in her eyes. “Would you care to test that theory?” she goaded.
But Broc was unmoved, he merely took another bite of his fish strip. “I don’t see why I would.”
Breanna was realising that even Koax, the rigid High Court Official of the Fenner Monarch had more understanding of the Elvish humour than her solemn and serious-minded brother.
She opened her mouth, not sure how to intervene and not sure what she was about to intervene in.
“Right, getta ruddy move on, yous lot.” Mim swept in, surveying the scene with a glance, she pointed at Breanna, “You, get in the boat. And the rest of you,” she looked at each one of them with a grim shake of the head, “do what you bloody came for and stop… wasting your strength.” Mim stared out along the river; their road for the long day ahead. “You’ll need it.”