Dragon-Bound Bard

Book 4 in the Chronicles of the Dragon-Bound

In the world of the dragon-bound: Tarissa Lathetta sang and waited tables in a Silverdale pub where her dragon-bound temper made dealing with rowdy customers difficult. A talented musician, Tarissa dreamed of becoming a bard. Discovering the identity of her father allowed her to study for a career in Silverdale’s classical music tradition. But it also put Tarissa at the heart of the conflict between the Keepers, power brokers in Silverdale, and the kingdom of Landly. Her personal growth soon meant she had to choose between her heart and her head. Heart or head? Unfortunately, others in the city wanted her . . . dead.

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Start reading: Chapter 1

“Yay-hay! Love your singing, little girl.”

That one cheer rose above the clamor of the audience, and it echoed in Tarissa Lathetta’s ears. She waved happily at the crowd and stepped behind the curtain of the little stage at the Crooked Cat Inn. It was Pork-It night at the Cat, and the crowd was lively. Fried pigs’ ears with the drinks made the Cat’s boys boisterous and the girls giggly. Tarissa had done a set of four songs, and the patrons had whooped and hollered for each of them.

“Love your singing.” The words held the sweet memory of her mother’s devotion to music, and it stirred her dream—her hope—for what she could be. Every time she sang, she shared a connection with her audience, a link that filled her with happy energy. Tarissa’s steps were light as she headed for the changing room. People had shouted as they applauded. The audience’s zest for her singing, those cheers in her ears, told her she had talent. Someday she would be a singer, maybe a bard like Euphenny, and be known throughout the kingdom.

Catt Catalta, owner of the Crooked Cat, stood at the entrance to the backstage area. He took one look at her smiling face. “Table six is waitin’ for their drinks,” he growled. “Get yer skinny butt back out here quick, girl.”

And just like that, her good spirits vanished. Yes, she had to get ready to wait tables. Catalta’s gruff reminder chased away her happiness. She had work to do. Table six—and all her other tables—were waiting.

Her ruffled vest waited on her assigned hook in the changing room. She put the inn’s mandolin into its case and slipped on the vest. Once buttoned, she was ready to serve. On Catalta’s schedule, she scarcely had time to catch her breath after her show. She checked her reflection in the dressing room’s scratchy little mirror. She dabbed away the last of the perspiration from her forehead and shook her short brown hair into the informal look that went with the rest of a server’s casual appearance. Ready, she stepped out into the short hallway that led to the pub’s main room. 

Catalta glowered at her as she brushed by him. “Jest cause they whoop it up when ye sing, don’t mean ye can stop workin’.”

No, Catalta was seldom satisfied. On the other hand, he did not have to be. She had inquired at most of the other inns and pubs in Silverdale, at least the ones in the respectable areas away from the docks. No one wanted to hire a singer once they found out she worked for Catalta. The Brewer’s Guild saw to that.

Tunis had a drink order ready and waiting for her. He nodded at the tray. “Table six.” He smiled and added, “Loved your Berry and the Bee tonight, sis.”

She grinned at his compliment. Her older brother could always raise her spirits. Tunis was the one thing that made her serving work at the Cat bearable. She looked at the tray and frowned. There were five mugs of Guild Woder and a double shot of Guildertoot. “Who’s drinking toot?”

“Old red-jacket added that to the order when he went out to use the jakes while you were singing.” He frowned. “Probably need to watch that one. He’s a little unsteady.”

She nodded. “He already pinched my bottom last time I was at the table.”

“Want me to toss ’em?” Tunis frowned. He was bigger than most men, and he was fiercely protective of his little sister.

“Nah,” she replied with a dismissive wave. “So far he’s just been a little frisky.”

“All right, but watch him.” He nodded at another tray. “I’ll have the order ready for table twelve when you get back.”

The large main room at the Crooked Cat had a high, timbered ceiling. The stuccoed walls were dingy around the sconces that held the lanterns. Above the fireplace, years of soot had blackened the cobbled stonework. The tables were full tonight. The Cat’s customers worked for a living, most of them at hard, dreary jobs, and a night at the Cat provided a welcome diversion. Tarissa wound her way carefully through the narrow spaces between the tables. People talked loudly to each other to make themselves heard over the din of their neighbors’ conversations. Even if it was not her party, being in a mix of happy people buoyed Tarissa’s spirits.

At table six, there were two couples plus the man in the red jacket. She smiled and bantered with each as she set their drinks in front of them. Red-jacket watched her as she put the mug of ale in front of him. When she went back to the tray for his glass of toot, he ran his hand up her leg to her bum and squeezed. Tarissa jumped, and the toot splashed across her arm. She twisted away, but red-jacket had a good grip on her right cheek and was not about to let go. “Hey, girly.” he chuckled, giving her a tug to urge her closer. “How’d you like to come back to my room and sing one of your little songs to my special big-boy?”

Another tug failed to free her from red-jacket’s grip, and the lecherous man tightened his hold. Tarissa’s dragon anger started to boil, but she fought for control. She needed this job. Rather than claw into red-jacket’s face with her fingers, she toppled the mug of ale into his lap. He jerked away from her and jumped to his feet. His small, three-legged stool crashed to the floor, silencing the conversations around them. He cursed—loudly. “You clumsy bitch,” he shouted. “Look what you done to my—”

His denunciation halted abruptly when Tunis lifted the man up by the collar of his colorful jacket. “Fondle the help, I’ll break your neck.” Tunis’s tone was mild, but the man dangled with only his toes touching the floor. “You’re goin’ outside,” Tunis announced.

Tarissa smiled as red-jacket took an ineffectual swing at Tunis. “You can’t do this to me,” he wheezed. The collar of his tunic was tight around his throat, cutting his volume.

“Put him down, Tunis,” Catalta growled from behind Tunis’s back. A moment later, he added, “Now.”

The look Tunis gave red-jacket would have made a sober man quail, but red-jacket took it as vindication when Tunis let him go. He straightened his clothes and looked Tunis up and down. “Jes’ as well,” he huffed. “And I’ll remember you, boy. Yes, I will. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Keepers, you know. It ain’t healthy to be playin’ around with me. Not no how. Why, I think—”

Catalta interrupted red-jacket’s thought. “Why don’t you let me get you some dry britches, m’lord?” His tone was disgustingly obsequious. “And I’ll bring a fresh drink as well. Little Tari here can be a bit clumsy.”

Tarissa recognized what was happening. She had seen Catalta fawn like this before. Her simmering dragon anger threatened to flare out of control. Restraining her own reaction, she turned to Tunis and pulled on his arm, urging him away. Her brother gave red-jacket’s back one more lingering glare before he followed her. A moment later, Tunis was back behind the bar, setting up table twelve’s drinks. Tarissa took a towel and blotted at the stain of toot on her sleeve. It would be a sticky mess when it dried, but at the moment she did not have time to do more. Once table twelve’s order was ready, Tarissa was on her way.

That night at closing time, Catalta took them both aside. “Look, I can’t have you doin’ that to me customers,” he said to Tunis.

“But he—” Tunis started.

“The jerk had a hold of my rear,” declared Tarissa. “A regular death grip. I should have slugged him.” Catalta had no idea how hard it was to restrain herself when her dragon anger was up.

The inn keeper’s face paled, and he frowned. “Do that and you’re dead, most like.” He nodded emphatically at Tunis as well. “You too. Those Keeper guys are bad news.”

Still irritated by the way the man in the red jacket had treated her, she snapped back. “Why don’t you get your friends in the Brewer’s Guild to take care of them like they do everything else?”

He shook his head. “You don’t get it. The Keepers run the Guild. Close enough, least ways.” He looked at Tunis. “Remember Naif Tantello?”

“Guy from the Guild who used to come around to check the spirit stock? The one they called Fancy Tant?”

“Yeah, him.” Catalta looked around as if checking for who might be listening. He lowered his voice and said, “One night over at the Hop-Toad House, he got into it with one of the Keepers. Three days later they pulled ole Tant out of the water over at Bandy’s Pier. Fish in the bay had et ’em up pretty good, but they recognized his hand-tooled belt.”

Although Tarissa was still angry, she recognized a warning when she heard it. “So how do I tell who these Keepers are? Do they all wear a red jacket?”

“Nah, ya just have to know ’em.” Catalta scowled at her. “Besides, maybe if you were friendlier to my customers, these sorts of things wun’t happen.”

“Friendlier?” Tarissa’s anger at the earlier incident and Catalta’s reprimand boiled up. “So I suppose you want me to take the old lechers with their shriveled manhoods upstairs like some of the other girls?” Tarissa crossed her arms defensively. “It’s not enough that you’ve got me waiting tables as well as singing? Now you want me to bounce their beds as well?”

Tarissa’s dragon anger burned inside. She wanted to tell the obnoxious little man she quit. However, once again she swallowed her rage rather than spill it. She needed the money. Besides, Catalta might fire Tunis as well. The Brewer’s Guild of Silverdale controlled not only the trade in spirits, but also the inns and public houses. No matter how good a singer she was, if she walked out on Catalta, she might as well walk out of Silverdale. No one else would hire her. And if the Keepers ran the Guild, what else might they control?

Her anger simmered, a hot lump in her stomach, but she meekly lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry, sir. I will try to do better.” She knew that even after a warning, Tunis might not be ready to let it go. She took his arm. “Come on, Tunis. We need to leave.”

#

Tunis walked Tarissa back to Aunt Rose’s house that night, like he always did. Her older brother had lived in his own apartment since they had moved to Silverdale three years ago, but he always saw her home from the Cat. Their aunt’s house was in a safe enough part of town, but the Crooked Cat sat in an area that bordered on Silverdale’s rough-and-tumble harbor district. Tarissa appreciated the company, and tonight she was especially glad to have him by her side. Rebellion roiled her thoughts. She and Tunis rehashed the incident with the red-jacketed Keeper. From what Catalta had said, a Keeper was more than just another lascivious customer.

Tarissa vented her frustration with life in Silverdale. “I should get my own place and move out.” Residual dragon anger put an edge to her statement.

“Aunt Rose won’t let you move out until you’re married. We’ve had this conversation before, Tarissa.”

“Well, I’m seventeen. Mother was sixteen when she married. Besides, Aunt Rose already takes most of my money for rent.”

“It’s less than what you’d pay for most decent places. Plus, she feeds you.”

Everything Tunis said was true, but it did not sooth her desire to change her life. Tunis put his arm around her and gave her shoulders a squeeze. “Don’t worry, sister mine. You’re the one with all the talent in the family. You’ll be the one everyone talks about.” 

Tunis could always make her feel better. His comment made her smile, but she was still sour. “Yeah, but what will they say?”

He jostled her shoulder and chuckled. “Sort of wonder that myself.” He gave her a pat. “And Catalta is wrong. You’re not skinny. You’re slender.”

She sighed. “I wish I could just sing. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about if a customer’s one of the Keepers or not.” She ran her fingers up into her hair and tugged at a handful. Exasperated, she growled, “Maybe one night the duke himself will come in disguise. That way I could insult him or dump a plate of food in his lap. Really mess things up.”

“Hey, you’re getting yourself all worked up again.” He shook a finger at her.

“Yeah, I know.” She sighed. “Thanks for reminding me.” She pinched her face in an imitation of Aunt Rose, and in a high, whiny voice said, “Temper, temper, little girl. You’ve gotten so cranky since you moved in.”

When they arrived at Aunt Rose’s home, Tunis caught her arm. “Are you okay?” he asked. She looked at him and saw his concern for her.

Yes, she was still annoyed, but her dragon anger only growled, scarcely a solo part against a background of resentment. She half smiled and nodded. “I’m being crabby,” she admitted with a sigh. “I’ll be all right, but thanks for checking.” She really did need a place to live.

With one last compliment on her singing, Tunis wished her goodnight.

Inside, the house was dark and quiet. Tarissa tiptoed through the space carefully, noiselessly. Aunt Rose would blister her ears if Tarissa awakened her. In her room behind the kitchen, she readied herself for bed. She had moved to Silverdale from Tazzelton to live with her Aunt Rose Rance, her mother’s older sister, after her mother had died. It had been three long years. She missed the kingdom’s capital city, but most of all she missed her mother.

She put on her nightshift and fingered the golden locket that hung around her neck. Inside the locket was inscribed, “For Lovely Sara.” Sara, Tarissa’s mother, had given it to Tarissa the night before she had died. Her mother’s unknown lover—Tarissa’s father—had given Sara the locket. Sara had never told Tarissa her father’s name. For Tarissa the locket was a talisman, a happy memory of her mother. Whoever her father had been, Tarissa knew her mother had loved him. She had seen her mother hold the locket in thoughtful contemplation. During those moments, Sara’s eyes gazed on distant memories, and those memories made her smile.

Tarissa took refuge tonight, like most nights, in her mother’s mandolin. She picked up the instrument and crawled into bed. The smooth, rosewood soundboard reflected the light of the one candle she was allowed, but she did not need light to play this instrument. The neck fit naturally into the palm of her left hand, and her fingers found the frets instinctively. However, at night she had to put a cloth pad over the sound hole to muffle the mandolin’s voice. She hated the dead, dull tone, but she dared not wake her aunt.

She started with a melody that had been running through her head the last few days, but after a few bars, realized it did not fit her mood tonight. The skipping rhythm, the half-formed humor of the lyrics, echoed badly in her head. Instead, she shifted to Dragon Variations and let her thoughts roam. Playing her mother’s instrument, Tarissa thought of her mother and how she had taught her to play the mandolin, read music, and sing. Then she remembered the stark image of her mother, gaunt and pale, awaiting death in the final stage of her illness—

But that was not the memory she wanted at this pensive moment. She had tried many times to forget that horrible scene. Again tonight she pushed away that doleful memory to turn to happier thoughts.

Like dragons. This afternoon Tarissa had seen a dragon on her way to work the Cat. At first glance, it could have been mistaken for a gull or some other sea bird up in the sky, but she knew it instantly. High overhead, the tiny silhouette had evoked strong feelings of respect, of admiration, for the magnificent beasts. Sadly, she was bound to a dragon she would never know, an eternal unrequited love. 

While her mother had been alive, she and Tunis had lived with her in Tazzelton. In the capital city of the Kingdom of Landly, both King Dax and Queen Dara were dragon-bound. Dragons came and went from the castle frequently. Tarissa’s Dragon Variations melodies were her attempt to capture the mix of feelings she had for the great beasts, the happy with the sad. Tonight Tarissa chose a theme in a minor key and played it at a slow tempo, a match for her melancholy mood.

Her own egg was gone. Her bond unfulfilled. After the first standard decoration of the melodic line, she wandered off, elaborating the tune where her inspiration took her. She meditated with her musical tapestry. She had seen dragons in Silverdale only once before, that fateful day three years ago. Rather, the dragons she and Tunis had seen that day had been at the Silver River Fair, outside of the city. That had been a wonderful day. But at the same time, that day had seen her greatest loss. 

2

The Silver River Fair, Three Years Earlier:

Shortly after Tarissa and Tunis had arrived in Silverdale, Tunis took her to the Silver River Fair. Held every year at the end of summer, farmers and merchants from up the Silver River, as far as Pine Barrow, gathered at the fairgrounds outside the city to show off their produce, livestock, and other wares. Tarissa and Tunis strolled past exhibits as they finished the slices of red-heart melon Tunis had bought them. 

At one point in their rambling, Tarissa overheard a passerby say there were dragons down by the river. She turned to her brother. “Tunis, they’ve got dragons here,” she told him. “I want to go see a dragon.”

“Oh, honey.” A woman next to her touched her arm for attention. “I heared what you said, and we just come from there. They’s scary things, they are.” She shook her head. “I won’t goes near ’em again, that’s sure.”

Two years prior to the fair, Tarissa had met the famous dragon Kahshect, when she had played before the king and queen in Tazzelton. She turned back to Tunis and grinned broadly. “Sounds terrifying.” She grabbed his arm and tugged him onward. “Let’s go.”

They resumed their trek, angling now toward the end of the field where it met the Silver River. Tarissa still had a smile on her face as she bounced along. The thought of seeing dragons close up excited her.

Ahead, two dragons lounged at the edge of the field. A cluster of people milled about some distance away, talking to each other and staring at the dragons. The dragons were the center of attention, but it was attention from a distance. Unlike the horses and pigs on display in the pens at the other end of the fairgrounds, there was no fence around these dragons. Although the creatures sat calmly, not appearing interested in what was going on around them, no one ventured near.

Except Tarissa.

She would not miss a chance to see dragons up close. With no hesitation, she walked past the rim of cautious people directly up to the dragons. Their bodies were easily double the size of a draft horse, and even on the ground, the tops of their backs were as high as Tarissa’s shoulders. With their heads atop long necks, they loomed over her at least twice her height as the dragons turned to look at her.

When Tarissa had met the king and queen’s dragon bondmate, she had learned that bonded dragons could understand human speech perfectly well. She looked up at the dragons. “Hello and welcome to Silverdale,” she greeted them happily.

Of course the dragons could not reply, but they recognized her greeting by nodding to her politely.

“Ah, experienced with dragons, are you?”

Tarissa turned at the comment. An older woman had followed her closer to the dragons. “I’m Ada Warrat,” the woman added.

“Tarissa Lathetta,” she replied and smiled. “I don’t know much about dragons, but I met Kahshect once.”

The woman nodded. “One of the more rambunctious beasts, that’s for sure.” She harrumphed disapprovingly. Tarissa smiled, having seen the ornery dragon’s behavior for herself. Warrat pointed at the nearest of the two dragons. “This is Deybanyt, my bondmate.”

“Deybanyt, I am pleased to meet you,” Tarissa said. The dragon nodded again, more deeply this time.

“And the other dragon is Telekoth, bonded to Effram Vordlay.”

Tarissa repeated her greeting to the other dragon. “I think this is great fun to be able to see dragons close up like this. Do you do this every year?”

Warrat looked surprised and shook her head. “No, we do not. In fact this is the first time in many, many years that we’ve been invited to Silverdale. Duke Rairatte sent us a special invitation after he’d managed to get his advisory council to approve.” She looked at Tarissa thoughtfully. “Is this your first time at the fair?”

Nodding, Tarissa added, “My brother and I moved up from Tazzelton this year.”

“Ah, and do you like Silverdale?”

“Sure. I like it fine,” Tarissa answered automatically.

Warrat put her arm across Tarissa’s shoulders and leaned close. Quietly she said, “You should know, dear, that our bond with a dragon means we can never lie. It also means we can hear any untruths others speak.” When Tarissa looked at her, Warrat nodded. “I’m sorry you don’t like it in Silverdale. Maybe you’ll like it better after you’ve been here a while.”

Tarissa shook her head sadly and looked down. “My mother died. That’s why we moved up here.” She paused to clear her throat and whispered. “I miss her.” Embarrassed to have revealed so much of her personal feelings to a stranger, she looked away. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“Don’t be sorry, child,” Warrat said soothingly, but then she sighed. Tarissa heard sorrow in the woman’s voice. “Unfortunately too much of life can be painful.” She gave Tarissa a pat on her shoulder. “You still grieve, but I see a measure of good spirits inside you.” She smiled at Tarissa. “You looked as if you were having a good time today. You were quite bubbly a moment ago when you were talking to the dragons.”

Yes, she had been happy, and Warrat was easy to talk to. She saw Tunis watching from nearby and waved him over. After she had introduced her brother to Warrat—and the dragons— she told the dragon-bound woman more about their lives.

“You’re a singer?” Warrat said when Tarissa mentioned it. “Oh, be sure to go hear Euphenny the Bard. He’s here today.” She shook her head. “He doesn’t get down to Tazzelton like he used to, so when we got here this morning, I made sure to go hear his show.”

Tarissa started to tell Warrat about when she had met the famous bard, but before she could start another enthusiastic monologue, Tunis nudged her. “Going to be finished by nightfall?”

Both Tarissa and Warrat laughed. “I’m sorry, Madam Warrat,” Tarissa said. “I’m taking up too much of your time.”

Warrat shook her head. “No, we’re here today to get to know the good people of Silverdale.” She looked around at the people watching them from a distance and shrugged. “However, until you and your brother came along, not many people have been willing to talk to us, let alone come anywhere near the dragons.” She chuckled. “Anyway, feel free to look around. We’ve brought some of the equipment we use. There’s even a couple of crates of dragon eggs. In a little bit the dragons are going to fly for the folks.”

When they left, both Tarissa and Tunis bid farewell to Warrat as well as to the dragons. They looked over the dragon-bound’s equipment. There was a pile of what looked like riding tack, but the large leather straps with big buckles were far bigger than any she had seen before. In the tumble of items, there were several leather saddles. Tarissa had not thought through what she was seeing until Tunis asked, “Wonder if that’s what they use to ride their dragons?”

Ride a dragon? That thought riveted Tarissa’s attention. What would it be like to ride a dragon through the sky? A series of heroic chords sounded in the concert hall of her mind. She looked at the saddles speculatively. Next to the equipment there was a wooden crate with what looked like tally balls in a bed of wood shavings. She ran her hand appraisingly over one of the balls. It was ice cold. Startled, Tarissa yipped with surprise.

“Dragon eggs,” Tunis said knowingly.

Tarissa looked at the round objects more closely. Yes, they were not tally balls at all. The stiff surfaces were leathery tough and pebbled. The rough surface was light in tone with off colors of greenish browns.

Tarissa smiled. Dragons’ eggs.

She had heard of the dragon siftings in Tazzelton where the dragon-bound let youngsters handle dragon eggs. She touched the egg again. The cold she felt was the chill of rejection from the little dragon inside.

Inspecting the other eggs in the crate, Tarissa saw they were all different from each other in appearance. While all were about the same size, they had random darker areas as if they had been discolored with blotches of brown and green dyes. Next to the one she had touched was a smoother egg that had a more splattered pattern. She touched it to feel the difference in the surface. This egg was warm. Tarissa smiled more broadly and put her whole hand on the egg. Touching the egg made her happy.

She was about to stroke the egg with both hands when Tunis caught her arm and pulled her away. “Look,” he cried pointing to the sky. “The dragons are flying!”

And they were. The two magnificent beasts winged their way up into the sky, mounting upward in opposite directions. In a moment, they turned back toward each other and made a spiraling pass, looping in a complicated knot of aerobatics. Tarissa had often watched birds flying and cavorting about, but nothing matched the awesome power, the grandeur of two great dragons soaring across the sky, sailing through interweaving patterns with breathtaking agility.

She watched openmouthed for long minutes. The magnificent dragons cavorted through the air over their heads. The display was spectacular, but the dragons’ final maneuver took her breath away. They ascended high into the sky until they were but dots. In another moment, the dots grew in size as the beasts dived back toward the ground. The angle of their plunge steepened. Suddenly, just when it appeared they must strike the ground, the dragons pulled up into level flight. Heading directly for the crowd, they flashed by so close overhead that Tarissa felt a slap of wind from their passage.

“Wow!” Tarissa exclaimed along with Tunis and most of the others gathered near them.

In a moment the dragons lit back on the ground as neatly as a pair of sparrows that had fluttered down from a nearby tree. They stretched their wings out and shook them into place along their backs. Finally they settled themselves back on their haunches as casually as could be, as if the grand display of flying had never happened. “Come on.” Tunis tugged her hand. “Let’s go back and see them again.”

The crowd had gathered closer around the dragons this time. Warrat wandered through the group with her companion, the dragon-bound man Vordlay, answering questions and explaining what the people had seen. Tarissa sensed the enthusiasm of the people around her. A glow of happy contentment filled her as they talked with other people in the crowd about what the dragons had done. Tarissa made sure to greet Deybanyt and Telekoth again before they left to explore the rest of the fair.

#

After the fair, Tunis walked her back to Aunt Rose’s. They talked about what they had seen and what they had done. After Tunis left her at the door, something nagged at Tarissa. Something forgotten? Something overlooked? She checked her pockets but found nothing missing. Yet she had lost something. She felt lonelier than ever.

It was late afternoon when she got in, and she was overdue. Aunt Rose had already started preparations for their evening meal and snapped at her about her tardiness. Supper was unpleasant. Tarissa was still full of enthusiasm and started to tell her aunt about seeing the dragons at the Silver River Fair. However, her aunt upbraided her for taking a chance in getting so near the dangerous beasts. Aunt Rose refused to listen to her explanation about Kahshect or any other information about dragons. “You’ll never go near a dragon again,” her aunt told her firmly. “Dragons are dangerous, and that’s all there is to it!”

A wave of unexplained fury swept over Tarissa. The scene drained of color. Tarissa saw every single gray hair intermixed in her aunt’s hair. Tarissa touched the edge of her plate, fully intending to throw it in her aunt’s face. However, fear stopped her hand. Not fear of her aunt. The flood of her own anger frightened her. Where had it come from?

Rather than do something that would get her thrown out onto the streets, Tarissa lowered her eyes. “I . . .” She hesitated, unable to say, “I’m sorry.” She was not sorry about loving dragons, but she thought of something else to say. “I apologize for upsetting you,” she said. Having to struggle to mollify her aunt left Tarissa too upset to finish her meal. “May I be excused?”

Once in her room, she puzzled over her reaction. Her hands still shook with a residue of anger. Aunt Rose was frequently sour and short with her. Why had tonight been different? And why had the idea of never seeing a dragon again made her so desperately angry?

She climbed into bed. The thought of dragons rekindled her memories of her day at the fair. She had met two more bound dragons and seen them fly. She had even touched a dragon egg. Even though there had been other eggs, she specifically remembered only one. Among all the others, one egg had been warm. The others had been cold. One egg . . .

That one egg was hers!

She sat up in bed, eyes wide. She finally understood. She had bonded with the egg—rather, with the dragon inside. A wrenching sense of loss swept over her. She remembered the stories about the heart-warming love that flowed between the king and Kahshect when they had bonded. That puzzled her for a moment. She had not felt a wave of love . . .

She had been distracted! The egg had been warm. Touching it made her feel good, but just then the dragons had started flying. Her thoughts were a confused swirl, but Tarissa’s heart ached with the realization of her loss. It was far too late to retrieve the egg. She had heard Warrat say the dragon-bound were only going to be there the one day. Maybe her brother would know . . . 

As soon as the idea of asking Tunis popped into her head, she reflexively cringed. No one must know!That feeling was unexpected. Whenever she had a problem she could not solve, she always asked her brother—never her aunt. But she recoiled from that thought, from the idea of letting anyone, even her brother, know about the egg. Her egg. Her lost egg. She mourned, but no one must know her secret heartache. She sighed and lay back down in bed. After she gathered her pillow back under her head, she wondered how she could live in hidden loneliness.

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