⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “I couldn’t put this book down, it was so good !I loved the characters, the building of the relationships, the writing! I laughed, I got teary eyed, I felt like a mother scolding her child when I wanted to reprimand some of the characters for things they thought or said, that’s how lost in the book I was!” – Cindy, Amazon Reviewer
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “This is a book that is well worth reading, it is beautifully written and is richly rewarding. In short, this is Epic fantasy at It’s very best. I highly recommend it.” – E.K., Amazon Reviewer.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “Wow, this author can write! I was immediately engrossed in this epic fantasy of Dragons, Dragon-Blooded, Dragon Tamers, and oh yes—mere humans.” –Mallory A. Haws: The Haunted Reading Room Reviews
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ “If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, this book has a very amazing world filled with dragons, dragon tamers, and dragon shifters. Deep characterization and excellent descriptions really bring the reading to life. Not to mention the narration.” – Kayla Krantz, Amazon Reviewer.
Kaelan Younger cradled her basket under her arm as she skulked through the small, shaded market. She had to cradle it because it was full of eggs she needed to sell if she was going to buy the ingredients needed for her mother’s medicine, and she had to skulk because she’d technically been banned from this particular market.
Ducking her head, she scoffed—quietly—as she wove between the vendors who were setting up shop. She was still upset about her banishment, especially since the incident that had caused it hadn’t even been her fault. Accidentally break one guy’s ankle, and suddenly the whole town turned against you. No one cared that she’d been stopping the jerk and his friends from pickpocketing a helpless old man, or that she’d technically done nothing more than give the boy a single light shove. He had gotten out of the incident scot-free—well, minus the broken ankle, which he’d more than deserved—while she’d been exiled to the lesser market.
Which was right next to the pigpens. In the mud. Where no customer with more than a few half-pennies in their pocket would venture. If she wanted to sell her eggs and herbs for enough money to buy the expensive, imported ingredients for the medicine her mother needed to live, she had no choice but to sneak back into the greater market.
Kaelan ducked her head and gritted her teeth, trying to concentrate on finding an unoccupied stall rather than thinking about her sick mother. Every time her thoughts ventured to the broken-down mountain cabin where Ma lay helpless in bed, Kaelan’s stomach flopped over and her head went fuzzy with anxiety, and she’d need all her wits about her if she was going to get a prime price out of her goods. Not to mention avoid getting caught, which would mean the confiscation of everything she’d brought to sell.
She couldn’t help the ugly and unwanted stir of resentment that always followed on the heels of her anxiety, though. The truth was, Kaelan was sixteen. She’d be an adult in a bare handful of years. She should be ramping up her studies as a healer-in-training, thinking about what she wanted to do with her life. Maybe even, if she was lucky, sneaking off to make out with some hot village boy in a broom closet. She shouldn’t have to be here, risking her future and her reputation for the sake of selling a few eggs.
She shook off that last thought, ashamed, and shoved the resentment away. Ma needed her, and Kaelan would come through for her. And that was all there was to it.
She spotted a tiny stall in the very back of the market and darted towards it. It wasn’t an ideal location, but it was right next to a vegetable vendor whose plump potatoes might bring a few extra customers their way. She made sure her ratty hood was pulled down far enough to hide her black hair and green eyes, and then she set her basket on the low table.
It was too early for the typical morning crowd to make their appearance yet, but she didn’t have to wait long for the first trickle of potential customers. All she could see were two torsos, their heads cut off by the hood that draped over her eyes, but she could tell from the shiny buttons and fine leather that they were well-off. She pulled her hood back just a touch and worked up a charming smile which she’d practiced extensively that week since it never came naturally to her. “Good sires,” she started off her sales pitch… but they’d already turned away, toward the vegetable vendor’s stall.
Worry fizzed in her veins. It was still early in the morning, so she had plenty of time to make her sales, but every moment that passed heightened the risk of discovery. Maybe these customers could be swayed by a discount and she could get out of here quickly. “Good sires!” she called again, raising her voice this time and lifting her hood a little more so they could better see her hard-won charming smile.
The men—no, boys—turned away from their perusal of the potatoes and glanced at her. The worry in her veins turned to lead, freezing her in place. “You,” she said, in a less-than-charming tone.
The boy in front—he was about her age—gave her an ugly smile, looking her up and down. His artfully tousled red hair bobbed with the motion. He swaggered back over to her stall and crossed his arms, probably trying to look tough, but the splint on his ankle ruined his pose.
“I thought I smelled a dragon-lover back here,” he said, sneering. “I wonder, does the chieftain know you’re in the greater market?”
I may be a dragon-lover, but at least I’m not a pickpocket, she wanted to reply, but didn’t. The boys in town had taken to calling her that name—a slur for someone loyal to the dragon-blooded royal family—ever since her family had moved there. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t worth getting upset over. What she did have to worry about, though, was this jackass or his friend telling the village chieftain that she’d broken the terms of her banishment.
The vegetable vendor glanced over, giving Kaelan a long, suspicious look. The rest of the vendors were still preoccupied with setting up shop, but if this guy turned this into a confrontation, they’d all be on her like flies on a carcass, hoping for some juicy new gossip material. If she didn’t convince the boy to move along quickly, her chances at a clean getaway would be shot.
Her mind skittered. What was his name? She couldn’t recall it. All the guys were the same here, at least as far as she was concerned: a bunch of self-righteous jerks, bullies and proud of it. “Don’t you have anything better to do than make trouble for me?” she tried, knowing it wouldn’t work. “Surely I’m not worth wasting your time on.”
The boy’s ugly smile dropped. “Funny thing,” he said. “Normally, I would have something better to do right now.”
The other boy leaned forward, his sour breath wafting between them. “Knattleikr practice was supposed to be this morning,” he said. “But thanks to your little stunt, Bekkr here is off the team till next season, and he was our captain. Which means the town’s lost its chance at attending finals. You’re now officially the least popular person in Gladsheim. So, if you ask me,” he said, reaching out a finger and poking her arm hard, “making trouble for you is the best use of our morning.”
Her heart sank, but before she could say anything in her own defense, Bekkr cut in.
“Actually,” he said to his friend, “I think you do have something to do right now, don’t you?”
The boy frowned, but then his eyes widened in understanding. He sent a leering smile at Kaelan before he trotted back toward the center of the market.
There was only one place he could be going—to tell the chieftain she was there. Hissing a curse under her breath, Kaelan snatched up her basket and wheeled for the side exit, but Bekkr caught her by the arm.
“Where do you think you’re going, dragon-lover?”
Her temper flared and she yanked her arm away. “Stop calling me that!”
His eyes went mean and squinty, the way all her tormentors did when she lost her temper—because that was their goal. She huffed out a breath, frustrated with herself for taking the bait. She should know better by now.
“Why?” Bekkr taunted. “That’s what you are, right? Well, let me tell you something, dragon-lover. You’re not welcome here.”
As if she hadn’t figured that out on day one. Dragons and the dragon-blooded ruling class weren’t popular in Gladsheim, nor were those loyal to them. The way these villagers looked at it, dragons used up the kingdom’s resources and gave the common folk little in return. Kaelan had never agreed with that outlook, in part because she knew dragons provided many irreplaceable benefits to the kingdom. The other part of her feeling on the subject was, admittedly, due to her own fascination with the creatures.
She shook herself. She had to get out of the market before the chieftain had her goods seized. She tore herself free from Bekkr’s grip and wheeled around to face the vegetable vendor. “I’ll give you a thirty percent discount on these eggs and herbs,” she said quickly, evading Bekkr as he grabbed for her again. She kept her eyes on the vendor. Her offer of a discount would mean she’d only be able to afford broth for dinner again, but at least it would leave her enough to pay for the medical ingredients she needed. “You can sell them for much more than that and make a profit.”
The woman squinted at her. “Don’t need no eggs or herbs,” she grunted, and then turned away as if Kaelan was invisible.
Kaelan groaned. What now? Should she try one or two more people in hopes of getting a sale here, or run before the chieftain arrived? Realistically, she knew she should run. It was the smart choice. She still had a chance at making a sale in the lesser market even if it made her next to nothing. But just as she turned to flee, Bekkr’s hand snaked out and yanked her basket away. “Hey!” she shouted, trying to grab it back.
Bekkr smiled, holding the basket up out of her reach. Damn his tallness. “Say Queen Celede is a worm and I’ll give it back.”
Her blood boiled at the derogatory nickname for dragons. When the boys goaded her, it made her angry, but she was used to it. She’d be damned if she’d stand by and let him mock someone else, though—especially a descendant of the dragons she admired. “Queen Celede is a good ruler,” she said staunchly. She had no idea if it was true, of course. She’d never been to Bellsor and never so much as seen the ruling family, but she was a loyalist at heart, and plus, at this point she was liable to disagree with anything this jackass said on general principle.
He raised an eyebrow, took one egg out of the basket and dropped it. She yelped and scrambled to catch it, but it hit the ground too quickly, splattering yolk all over the hem of her cloak. She fumed helplessly as he picked up another egg and held it aloft.
“One more chance,” he said. “How about Prince Lasaro this time? Everyone knows he’s not fit to rule, anyway. None of the royal brats are.”
Her temper snapped. She took two jerky steps forward and shoved him, much harder this time than she had when she’d broken his ankle. He stumbled backward, that stupid grin slipping off his ugly face as he had to drop her basket and the egg to reach out and catch himself on a table.
She grabbed her basket and stood above him, raging. “You,” she growled, “are nothing. All of you, including those other boys you hang out with, you’re nothing. I don’t even have to know Prince Lasaro to know he’s twenty times the man you are. Now stay down before I break your other ankle.”
She didn’t dare look up, but she could sense everyone in a five-stall radius training their attention on her. Now that she’d made a scene and ruined all chances of escaping notice, she tucked the basket under her cloak in hopes of at least making a quick escape with her remaining goods intact. If she got out fast enough, and if there were already a few customers in the lesser market, she might still be able to sell her goods for maybe a third of their worth. If she was lucky.
She started to turn and nearly impaled herself on a dragon’s skull.
She shrieked and leapt away from the huge thing—the jaws were big enough to fit her whole torso inside—and her basket went flying. The herbs scattered to the ground, her eggs splattering at her feet. The skull’s wicked-sharp teeth gleamed in the shade of the market, its dark eye sockets staring at her as she stumbled further backward. Shock and fear flooded her system before she registered that the skull was being carried by two of Bekkr’s lackeys who were now laughing so hard that they risked dropping their burden on their feet.
She whirled back around, hands shaking with her fury. Bekkr had righted himself and was laughing, too, completely unsurprised. So, this was why he’d kept her here. He’d been distracting her while his friend went to set up the prank.
“Better watch out, dragon-lover!” he said. Several of the vendors and customers around them were smiling along with him, and the rest ignored the scene and her dismay. “It could be the great Mordon come back to destroy the land! That’s all dragons are good for anyway—destruction. But you would know, wouldn’t you? That burn on your arm, I bet you got that from dragonfire, right?”
She wasn’t looking at him, however, or even really listening. She was looking at her eggs, their yellow yolks broken and soaking into the dust. One of them had shattered against the dragon skull and now dripped down a long tooth. The money she could have made from those eggs could’ve made her mother well again, at least for a while. And now they were gone. And the boy who’d ruined her chances of making that sale was mocking the dragons, the kingdom she called home, and everything she cared about.
It was too much.
She flung her arms down, threw back her head, and roared.
The sound seemed to vibrate up and out of her skin, to wrap her up in a wall of sound, to grow and swell until it was nigh unbearable. It crackled with heat, flashing out from her in a wave, burning the boys’ hands. They dropped the skull. Bekkr reeled away, covering his ears and knocking the vegetable vendor’s table askew as he tried to flee. The woman shouted, keeping her own ears covered as she stared down at her scattered vegetables being trampled on as people stampeded away from Kaelan. The look in the woman’s eyes reminded Kaelan of how she herself must’ve looked at her lost eggs just a moment ago, and, as suddenly as the roar had started, Kaelan shut her mouth and cut it off.
What had she done? And how in Hel’s name had she done it?
She took a ragged breath, and the sound echoed in the sudden, ear-shattering silence.
“Freak!” Bekkr hissed at last. “You’re cursed. You’re… you’re a freak.”
Throughout the whole market, everyone was staring at her the same way he was: shocked. Frozen. Afraid—of her.
She took a step backward. Then another. And then she dropped her empty basket, turned, and fled.
* * *
When Kaelan got home, her mother was dying. She’d been dying for months, of course—but now, with Kaelan’s mind still spinning from whatever had happened in the market, she was unable to ignore it the way she usually tried to. Her mother lay in bed, her hair brittle and her eyes sunken and yellowed, and barely had the energy to sit up when she saw her daughter come crashing into the house like the mountainside itself was on fire.
“Kaelan, what’s wrong?” Ardis Younger asked, alarm coloring her faint voice. Her knuckles looked knobby, the skin stretching thin over them as she grasped the side of the bed to support herself.
Kaelan took a breath, trying to un-see her mother’s weakness. It wasn’t what she should be focusing on right now, anyway. She’d run home as quickly as she could because she needed to tell her ma and grandmother what had happened, and that they’d probably need to uproot themselves and move again because of it. Their business as healers depended on their good reputations with a populace that trusted them, and thanks to the rumors that Bekkr and his friends were surely spreading about her at this very moment, the town of Gladsheim would no longer fit that bill. But she didn’t want to say that yet. She wanted to listen instead—to the scrawny chickens clucking outside the back door, to her grandmother humming as she harvested the little garden, and to the gentle noise of the austere mountain around them. She wanted to close her eyes so she wouldn’t see her mother already looking like a corpse, and just listen to life as it should be.
As it would have been if she hadn’t just messed it all up.
“Kaelan,” her mother said gently, knowing her mind—as always. “Standing there with your eyes shut won’t make the trouble go away.”
The familiar words made Kaelan bite back a bittersweet smile. How often she’d heard that phrase. Her curiosity and temper always had been good at getting her into difficult situations, and she’d always preferred ignoring them to facing the music. “I’m sorry, Ma,” she said, opening her eyes. “But I lost the eggs and herbs.”
Haldis, Kaelan’s grandma, slammed open the back door just then. From the frown slanted across her face, she’d been eavesdropping—a skill she’d been sharpening lately now that her eyesight was failing. “You tried to sneak into the greater market, didn’t you? Fool of a girl!” But the words were more exasperated than angry. “How are we supposed to afford the ingredients for the new potion now?”
The new potion. It was a reminder that they’d already tried dozens of potions, dozens of increasingly desperate treatments and nothing had helped Ardis. The wasting illness she had was a tricky strain, one they’d never managed to find a complete cure for. This new potion was a last-ditch effort, and an expensive one at that, with rare imported ingredients.
Kaelan spread her hands, not bothering to deny the charges against her, but not ready to confess everything, either.
“Mama,” Ardis said, turning. “Be calm. I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think.”
Haldis huffed and crossed her arms. Even with her filmy blue-white eyes, she could see right through her granddaughter.
Kaelan cleared her throat, shame burning through her. “Um. Well. It… might actually be as bad as she thinks.”
Haldis’ stare sharpened. “And how bad exactly do I think it is?”
Kaelan winced. “I hear Skorraholt is nice this time of year?” she ventured. Skorraholt was a village on the other side of the mountain pass.
Her mother and grandmother stared at her. “Oh dear,” Ardis said faintly.
Haldis wasn’t nearly so reserved. “We have to move again? What under Odin’s blue sky did you do, girl?” she demanded.
“I was defending myself!” Kaelan protested.
“Someone attacked you?” her mother asked, sounding a little like her old self.
“Some of the village guys pulled a prank.” Kaelan looked away, remembering the gleam of egg yolk on sharp ivory teeth, the herbs stomped into the dirt. And the way she’d roared at them like she had more in common with the dragon skull than with the boys holding it.
She yanked her mind away from the memory as if it’d burnt her. She was no dragon-blooded noble. She was a peasant and a healer-in-training, and very happy to be so, or at least she would have been if village idiots like Bekkr hadn’t constantly been lording it over her. She had no idea what had happened earlier, but there was a perfectly good, perfectly normal explanation for it. Maybe the acoustics of the greater market had thrown her voice so it had sounded louder than it truly was.
“The boys were making fun of you again?” Ardis scowled, though that was a relative term. Even her scowls looked serene and soothing. Kaelan’s mother was a born healer in a way Kaelan herself would never be, even though they both technically had the same healer’s touch—the gods-given ability to sense what herbs would heal and which would poison, to understand with a mere touch just how bad an injury was, and to mix potions and tonics that healed people just a little faster, just a little better than those mixed by normal folk. But Ardis was patient and calming, and Kaelan was… well, less so. Kaelan might be able to make a perfect potion for spotted fever, but she was as likely to throw it at someone’s head as she was to administer it correctly.
“Yes,” Kaelan answered.
“And what exactly was your response that merits us packing up and skipping town again?” Haldis demanded, unmoved.
Kaelan swallowed hard, swiftly losing hope that there might be a way she could wriggle her way out of this without telling her family the truth of what had happened. She didn’t want them to know, but more than anything, she didn’t want to acknowledge it to herself, not yet. What if she was cursed? What if she was truly a freak like Bekkr said? “I told you, I defended myself,” she tried one last time, avoiding eye contact with both women. “Aren’t you two always telling me to be loyal to myself, not to let anyone else try to tell me who or what I am and all that?”
Neither bought it, unfortunately. Ardis’ scowl shifted into suspicion, and Haldis clucked her tongue.
“What’s more important?” her grandmother asked, shaking a finger at her. “Loyalty to yourself or honoring promises to others? We needed that money, Kaelan. We were depending on you to get it for us. You’re nearly a grown woman yourself. Couldn’t you have been more responsible?”
Unspoken was the fact that Haldis herself could no longer make it to the market now that her eyesight was failing. Her health was failing, too, and had been failing ever since Ardis had fallen ill—even the best healer could only keep herself going for so long, especially under so much stress—but that was another thing Kaelan refused to see.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I couldn’t just stand there and let him slander the dragons.” Unshed tears clogged her throat. Her words had come out thick and defensive, though she’d wanted them to sound strong, certain.
Ardis heard the change in her daughter’s tone and narrowed her eyes. “Sweetheart? What are you not telling us?”
Kaelan gave up.
“I roared,” she said, hating the helplessness in her voice. “I don’t know what happened! The boys pulled their prank, and they were all laughing, and I’d lost the eggs and the herbs and I was so mad. And… I roared.”
The word wasn’t enough to encompass the sound, to explain the ringing in her head when it had been happening, or the way the silence afterwards had felt so absolute in comparison. But it was enough for her family to understand what she’d done. Haldis’ hands fell back to her sides and her rheumy eyes went wide with shock. Ardis took a breath and didn’t let it out. The look on her face made Kaelan take a step forward, concerned.
“Ma? Are you okay?”
Ardis’ knuckles whitened on the bedpost she’d been clutching, making her skin look as fragile as old parchment. She let out the breath. “Oh, Kaelan,” she said, the words faint and faraway and wavering in a way that scared Kaelan more than anything else that had happened that day. “Oh, sweetheart.”
Ardis took one more shaky breath. Then she closed her eyes and her grip on the bedpost loosened.
And then she crumpled to the ground.