by Jenifer Nipps


Lady Ellyse walked down the main hall of her castle with her son. “Your tutor is a good one, Aryn,” she said, “but there are some things he cannot teach you.”

“Like what, Mother?” Aryn asked.

“The ways of the dragons.”

Aryn paled. “I don’t want to know anything about such evil beasts!”

Ellyse shook her head. Am I too late then? she wondered.

They walked out of the castle into the courtyard. Before them waited the servants, huddled together near the wall. Though they lived close to the dragon lands, dragons rarely visited them at the castle.

Ellyse looked at the green dragon. “Greetings, Zhade!” she said. “It has been a long time since we last met.”

:Indeed it has, Guardian,: the dragon acknowledged. He looked at Aryn, still at Ellyse’s side. :And is this your heir?:

Ellyse sighed. “Yes, Zhade. This is Aryn. And he is, indeed, my heir.”

“I am not! Not if it means I must deal with these evil beasts! I must tell Father Petyr about this!”

:Stop, child,: Zhade said. :Don’t listen to your errant priest or to your ignorant tutor.:

Aryn’s jaw dropped. “Y-you can’t say that!”

Zhade snorted. The servants cringed back another step. :I can. Have you been taught the dragons have clergy that outranks any human priest? This is not the time for idle talk. I have a message for your Lady Mother.: He pitched his mind-speech so even the servants gathered could hear. :Why are you afraid? If I meant you harm, you would be dead by now. Or, at the very least, homeless.: He looked at Ellyse. :Is there a place we can talk, privately?:

Ellyse nodded. “Certainly. There is an empty field behind the stables. No one,” she looked at the servants and her son, “will bother us there.”

* * *

Ellyse ran down the great hall. She saw a servant passing and paused. “Hera, tell Cook to get trail rations for me and one other. Have him take it to the stable and put on my horse.”

“Yes, milady.” The servant bowed and went about her assignment.

Ellyse climbed the stairs to the second floor. She stopped at Aryn‘s room. “I’m sorry, son, but I must leave. Being the Guardian of the Dragon Lands means I have duties that take me from home.”

“I know, Mother,” Aryn interrupted. “You’ve left before.”

Ellyse sighed. “Yes. But this time is different. It might be a year or more before I return. And I have instructions for you.” She paused, making sure Aryn paid attention. “You are not to listen to Father Petyr or your tutor about the nature of dragons.”

“That’s blasphemy!” Aryn said, turning from his mother to the window.

Ellyse walked to the window and turned Aryn back to face her. “I’m not finished. It is not blasphemy. It is your job. You must know this before I leave. There are classes of dragons. The ones near here are the Silver, Gold, and Green. The Silvers are the clergy and shape-changers. They are your greatest allies. The Golds are warriors and scholars. And the Greens are messengers. Do you understand me?”

Aryn nodded. “Master Dylon never said anything about classes.”

“I know,” Ellyse said. “This is important. If you ever see any black, red, or yellow dragons, go down to the cellars!”

“Why? Don’t you protect the dragons? Aren’t they all friends?”

Ellyse laughed. “No, I do not protect the dragons. I keep people from encroaching on their lands. And they are definitely not all friends. The blacks, reds, and yellows are our enemies.” She turned to the door. “Remember that, Aryn. It might well save your life. I will tell the Seneschal the same thing.” Ellyse left her son standing by the window. She went to her suite, hastily packed a travel bag, and left.