_11 YEARS AGO_
_It was still dark when Dad came to my bedchamber. The sun was still asleep, along with all of the birds. He was going on an adventure, he said, and he thought I’d like to come._
_Of course I did._
_I jumped from my bed. I put on my sheepskin coat. It was summer, but the mornings were still cool…_
_Summer is a headstrong and fiercely independent princess in a world run by men and dominated by dragons. Suddenly she finds herself in the clutches of domineering and tantalizing Twin Dragon Lords. Can she save herself and her kingdom, or will she fall for their darkly seductive charm?_
_Age Rating: 18+_
Dragon’s Princess by C. Swallow is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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11 YEARS AGO
It was still dark when Dad came to my bedchamber. The sun was still asleep, along with all of the birds.
He was going on an adventure, he said, and he thought I’d like to come.
Of course I did.
I jumped from my bed. I put on my sheepskin coat. It was summer, but the mornings were still cool.
I grabbed the adventure pack Dad gave me for my last birthday, when I turned seven. He filled it with useful things I would need for hunting salamanders, building forts, and trailing Dragons.
Magnifying glass, slingshot, cutters for plants and thin branches, book to press them in…
When I had my pack with me, I felt like a real adventurer. I took it whenever I left the castle to look for Dragons.
Dragons were my favorite.
“Summer,” my dad said softly to me as we walked down the main staircase, so as not to wake anyone in the castle. He was holding my hand.
“Our mission is exciting indeed. A rogue Dragon has eaten Farmer Tivoli’s prized cows and fallen asleep in his field.”
My eyes went wide. A Dragon!
Dad lifted me into the carriage that was waiting in front of the castle.
“We have to wake her up,” Dad said, “and convince her not to bother any other farmers.”
A girl Dragon. This was the best day ever.
Our journey took a long time. The sun started to come up, and out the carriage window, Patter Kingdom’s green hills and valleys were covered in dew.
I could feel the Dragon close to me. I knew Dad could, too, because he squeezed my hand.
And then the carriage stopped.
A man was waiting for us. He introduced himself to Dad as Farmer Tivoli. They talked for a while, but I wasn’t listening.
I was leaning over the middle rung of the fence. Staring at the Dragon.
In the middle of the foggy field was a purple Dragon. Her scales were iridescent, reflecting the sun as her body rose and fell with her breath. She was as big as the carriage, including the two horses driving it.
She was beautiful.
I could hear her snoring. She flicked her tail, as if she was having a nice dream.
“Dad!” I called. “Let’s go!”
He chuckled but came and lifted me under my arms over the fence.
He held my hand as we walked through the tall grass. Our legs got wet with dew.
“So, my love,” he said, “we always approach sleeping Dragons from the front. And we come to them with respect in our hearts. Just like horses can smell fear, Dragons can smell respect.”
We were getting close to her. My heart was pounding.
“Daddy, what does ‘rogue’ mean?”
“It means she doesn’t have a horde. She wanders the world alone.”
I exhaled. We were standing still, looking at the Dragon.
She was sleeping peacefully. I worried she wouldn’t like to be woken up.
“Indigo,” Dad called.
My eyes widened. He knew her name?
The Dragon’s eyes opened lazily. They were electric green. She looked at me, and I felt a shock through my whole body.
She kept her massive head resting on her paws.
“You are no longer hungry,” Dad said. He dropped my hand, walking toward her slowly.
The Dragon raised her head and huffed smoke from her nose.
Dad was close now, and he got down on one knee.
“I am the King of Patter. I humble myself before you.”
The Dragon raised her head, looking at him down her nose.
“And I ask of you a favor. Please leave Farmer Tivoli’s field and find other food than the cows of Patter.”
The Dragon harrumphed. For a moment, she didn’t move, and I worried she might decide to eat my dad instead of the cows.
But she rose to her feet. As she moved, her scales whispered like silk. Then she spread her massive wings.
And quickly, silently, she launched up into the sky.
Her wings made wind that blew my hair back from my face.
I watched her until she was a speck in the sky. Where was she going? I wondered.
When I finally looked back to Dad, he was still on one knee in the field. But he had turned his head and he’d been watching me. He was smiling, and when he caught my eye, he winked.
I held Maddie’s hand as I led her to the Dragon pen.
“Is it true that Dragons can breathe fire, Summer?” my little cousin asked.
“Yes. They breathe fire, and it’s so hot it can melt stone.”
“Wow,” she sighed.
I looked down at her little head, her red curls bouncing as she skipped.
“Here we are.” I stopped. “This is where my brother keeps the Dragons.”
I got down on my knee beside her so I could look her in the eye.
“We’re about to see Dragons, Maddie. These creatures are powerful and dangerous. You don’t need to be scared of Dragons, but you do need to respect them. And respecting them means no touching. Ever. Okay?”
I knew I would have to spell this out for her very clearly. The six-year-old nodded. She didn’t seem afraid.
I looked up at the pen. It was a hostile structure that used to be a wheelhouse. Ross, my brother, and the King of Patter, had it transformed into a dungeon where he could keep the Dragons his army captured.
To drug, starve, and train them until they would join Ross’s army.
I opened the big door slowly. I wasn’t supposed to be here, and definitely not with Madeline.
But my little cousin wouldn’t stop asking, and I secretly hoped that if little Maddie andI pestered Ross, he would finally stop locking Dragons up.
I peered into the dim cavernous room. It was lit with only a few torches.
Three Dragons were kept in the stalls. They were lying down with heavy shackles around each leg.
Even in the coming night, I could make out the black Dragon blood that pooled in the last Dragon’s stall. This Dragon was new. And huge. It was clearly a male.
Its golden scales were beautiful. The color seemed of another world. I couldn’t look away from the creature.
Suddenly, its eyes opened. His golden eyes fixed on mine, and for a moment, the rest of the world fell away.
I forgot to breathe, and my heart raced. What was happening?
I felt Maddie tug on my dress.
“Summer, let me SEE!” She tried to push me aside.
I took this opportunity to break the gaze of the Dragon, opening the door wider.
But like an impulse, like the Dragon was a magnet, I looked right back. And our eyes met again.
It hurt me to see the Dragon hurting like this.
“Wow,” Maddie sighed. “Why are the Dragons tied up?” she whispered.
“Because my brother wants to keep them all for himself. He doesn’t want to let them be free. It doesn’t seem fair, does it?”
I squeezed her little hand. “I have a feeling we can change it. But now it’s time for bed.”
“Noooo…” Maddie whined. But I scooped her into my arms and let the door close behind me. I was thankful to be out of the Dragon’s gaze.
It had been extremely intense, and I couldn’t place why.
I dropped Maddie back on the main path.
“Run right back to the castle, okay, monkey? Nell will put you to bed. I’ll be home soon.” I kissed her forehead, and she started to run.
I needed to clear my head. It was a good time to go to the forest.
As soon as I was under the cover of trees, my breathing grew low and steady. I found my rhythm as I moved through, touching bark and holding leaves between my fingers.
As a healer, I was more in touch with the natural world. Being alone in nature not only made my healing abilities stronger but it seemed to heal me. It made my thoughts clearer, more calm.
I moved easily through the forest, even though I couldn’t see well in the dark.
I thought of the golden Dragon and Jordan Culling, the handsome king who was staying in Patter to court me.
Strange that I should think of them at the same time, I thought, but quickly let it go.
Culling was charming and intelligent, and he wanted me for his queen. He made that very clear. The offer was tempting, but it was too soon to know. I had only just turned eighteen.
I paused and breathed in through my nose. I tried to make out the acrid scent of Dragonsbane.
Ross had set up countless traps in the forests around Patter, luring Dragons in with bait. When the trap was sprung, they would be shot senseless with Dragonsbane, a poison used to weaken, or even kill, them.
Ross had captured many Dragons already, but I wouldn’t just sit back and let these innocent creatures be taken for no reason other than the hubris of my stupid king brother.
Tonight I would disarm his traps.
Well, as many as I could.
There she was.
Aneurin was right. She was beautiful.
And she was the one. I could smell it.
I snuck through the forest in my Dragon form. My scales were black, nearly invisible in the night. I moved silently.
Aneurin’s voice played in my head. While he’d been locked up in the king’s dungeon, he’d been in my head even more than normal. Especially after he laid eyes on the girl.
He was right.
She was just who we were looking for.
The princess had long, curling brown hair. Her eyes sparkled even in the darkness, and her dress framed her elegant figure perfectly. She rubbed a leaf between her fingers before crouching and placing her hands on the earth.
It looked like she was disabling one of the fool king’s traps.
I watched her get to work, slowly and meticulously dismantling the contraption.
Her presence was like a balm to me. She soothed the constant raging in my mind, my natural revulsion to humans fading away.
It made me excited, too, but I would ignore that for now.
I wanted to show myself to her, but I didn’t want to scare her out of her pretty skin.
A twig cracked under my toe. She turned in my direction. There was curiosity in her eyes, and then fear.
She knew what I was. So I closed the distance between us, moving stealthily toward her on my four legs.
Up close, her scent drove me insane.
Her eyes were wide and terrified. She wasn’t breathing.
I decided to calm her fears. My body cooled as I dissolved into a fine black mist and entered my human form.
Now, her eyes were wide, but it wasn’t quite with fear. I was naked, after all.
“Summer,” I said. “I’ve heard so much about you.” I stepped out from the shadow of the trees, allowing the moonlight to fall onto me. I heard her gasp, the sound sending a rush of desire through me.
Oh, how sweet it would be to make her gasp…
“My name is Dane.”
Summer paused for a moment, and then she took off running through the woods.
I chuckled to myself.
“I don’t bite, little girl,” I called after her. I knew she could hear me.
Well, not yet…
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I sat in front of the mirror as Nell prepared me for the feast, my mind in another place.
It was in the forest, last night, to be exact.
One moment I was alone, and the next there was a Dragon staring at me. Excitement and fear had coursed through my veins. I watched him approach me, his elegant form dripping beauty and power.
Then, in a swirl of mist, it turned into the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
Swooping black hair, a devilish smile, and blue-green eyes that sparkled like stars in the night.
And he was naked.
I felt myself blush as I remembered his perfectly chiseled body, the sculpt of his abs as my eyes wandered down below his waist…
He knew my name, and he told me his.
I was brought back to the present as Nell worked the comb through a particularly stubborn knot in my hair. She had been my main attendant since we were girls, and knew my long locks better than anybody. In many ways, she knew me better than anybody.
“You really need to keep better care of yourself.” Nell frowned at me in the mirror. “You’re a princess, after all.”
“Mhm,” I mumbled noncommittally. I didn’t like the splendor of balls. The nobles, the aristocrats, all cloying and clamoring for attention. I’d take the solitude of nature over any feast. Especially the Full Moon Feast.
Especially because Mom and Dad were gone…
“So?” Nell asked me. Her tone changed, and I saw the conspiratorial smile on her face. She wiggled her eyebrows at me. “How far have you gotten with King Culling?”
“Nell!” I admonished her, feeling myself flush.
Jordan Culling was a visiting king from the nearby Kingdom of Marbledon. He was one of the many suitors that looked for my hand in marriage.
But unlike the others, he was…
“What?” she asked innocently. “He’s handsome, smart, and oh so charming. Not to mention the fact that he’s a king.” She sighed. “I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve been… naughty.”
I laughed, shaking my head at her. “Even if you wouldn’t blame me, everyone else would. I’m expected to hold my virtue until I’m married, being a princess and all.”
“Ah, the trappings of royalty. If only you were a peasant girl like me, then you’d be free to fool around to your heart’s desire.”
“Oh, cut it out, will you?” I mock-glared at her. Still, I couldn’t say I’d never thought about it. Jordan Culling was very handsome, and the way he looked at me with those piercing eyes of his…
Dane’s face flashed into my mind, bathed in moonlight.
I blinked, shaking my head to clear my mind.
Why can’t I get him out of my head?
Nell finished with my hair, motioning for me to stand so she could smooth out the ruffles in my dress. I felt trapped in this thing, the waist hugging my skin way too tight for comfort.
“Ridiculous?” I finished.
“Beautiful,” Nell corrected, smiling. “King Culling won’t be able to take his eyes off of you.”
I rolled my eyes at her, but her words sent a thrill of excitement through me. I wondered what he’d think.
“Well, what are you waiting for, princess?” Nell asked, ushering me toward the door. “The Full Moon Feast awaits.”
I descended the grand castle staircase to find Culling waiting for me at the bottom. I stopped before him, his gaze leaving a trail of goosebumps along my skin.
“You look stunning.” He smiled at me as he offered his arm.
I took it, offering a smile of my own.
He was dressed in formal military attire, a stylish cape of midnight blue pinned by a laurel fashioned from gold to his shoulder. The Warrior King, Jordan Culling, who rides a Dragon into battle. His dark hair was slicked back, and there was a confident tilt to his broad shoulders.
“You look nice, too,” I said.
Understatement of the year.
He laughed, flashing me a row of perfect teeth.
“We’ll make quite the pair then, won’t we?” He led me toward the main courtyard where the feast would take place, underneath the light of the full moon.
Softly glowing lanterns bathed the space in a gentle light, the scent of rich food and pastries mingling in the air with the sounds of music and laughter.
It felt like all of Patter Kingdom was within these walls.
People from all walks of life mingled and laughed, from the simple, honest folk that worked in the fields to the highborn aristocracy of neighboring kingdoms. The Full Moon Feast was a celebration of life, of another cycle lived off the land stripped of things like rank or standing.
It had been Mom and Dad’s favorite festival.
My parents had been kind and gentle in their rule. The beloved king and queen of Patter. The ling who would toil alongside the farmers in the fields, the queen who was midwife to so many of the peasant folk.
Their boundless compassion was not limited to our borders, either. They often sent supplies and aid to neighboring cities. They never turned away desperate refugees from lands ravaged by war and famine.
The Full Moon Feast was the perfect representation of them.
But they had died in their sleep just last year.
The entire realm mourned for them. The populace cried of regicide, but we could find no evidence of foul play. Just a cruel twist of fate, bright souls lost far too soon.
And they were still so young…
This feast would be the first without its king and queen, and the people of Patter were determined to enjoy themselves in their honor.
I wasn’t as enthusiastic.
I looked down to find Maddie staring up at me, a smile on her face. She looked adorable in her white dress, a wreath of wildflowers in her hair.
“This party is so boring,” she said with a pout. “Will you take me to see the Dragons again?”
“Shh!” I panicked, looking around at the guards. None of them seemed to have heard. Culling, however, looked at me with an eyebrow raised. I leaned down so I was face to face with my little cousin.
“That was supposed to be a secret, remember?”
“I know, but I really want to see them again. We barely stayed last time!”
Culling leaned down next to me so he was face to face with Maddie as well. He was so close, and the smell of his cologne just made me want to lean in closer…
“How about if you behave, I’ll take you to see my Dragon later?” Culling asked her.
“You have a Dragon?” Maddie’s eyes shone.
“I do.” Culling nodded. “And if you’re extra good, I’ll even let you pet her.”
Maddie gasped, her hands covering her mouth.
“Oh, please, please, please!” She bounced up and down from excitement.
Culling laughed, placing a hand on her head. He shot her a wink.
“Well, run along now. I’ll come find you later.”
Maddie nodded enthusiastically, shooting me a final smile before making her way toward the dessert table.
I snuck a peek at Culling from the corner of my eye. He watched Maddie go, a small smile on his lips.
So, he’s good with kids too…
He turned his gaze toward me suddenly, and my heart skipped a beat. I looked away, but it was too late.
He definitely caught me.
He rose, offering me his hand and a brilliant smile.
I sighed, taking his hand.
Maybe festivals weren’t so bad after all.
So, she’d been sneaking into the Dragon pens. Another Dragon sympathizer.
I’d fix that.
Princess Summer was beautiful. Her long brown hair fell in waves over her shoulders, her bright, intelligent eyes shining with the glow of the lanterns. She was also fiercely independent with a sharp tongue accompanied by a quick wit.
I’d learned she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, no matter the company or consequences.
But I could fix that too.
She’d be the bearer of my children soon, and she would need to be more docile.
I watched her as she frowned disapprovingly at her brother. King Ross sat at his table, a girl perched on each leg and a goblet clutched in each hand. He laughed boisterously, the women feeding him cheese and meats. He was still young, barely a man. Barely sixteen.
He could prove to be a useful ally.
Impressionable. Easy to manipulate.
“Mind yourself, Ross,” Summer hissed. “You’re our king. Act like it.”
“And as king…” Ross slurred, spilling some of his wine on one of the girls on his lap. She continued smiling, pretending not to notice. Poor thing. “I can do whatever I want.”
“If Mom and Dad could see you now…” Summer started.
“Let him enjoy himself a little,” I interrupted. “Being king is stressful, after all. What use is a feast if it can’t be enjoyed?”
Ross smiled at me, raising one of his goblets, spilling some wine yet again.
I smiled back.
“There’s no reason he can’t be a little more civil about it,” Summer murmured.
I watched George Wilkins approach us, suppressing a sigh. I leaned in to whisper into Summer’s ear, so only she could hear.
“Careful, princess. Another suitor approaches. Shall I fetch my Dragon so we can be whisked away?”
She laughed, and I felt her hand squeeze my arm.
“I’ll get back to you on that,” she whispered, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
She had a knack for trouble as well, clearly.
I’d fix that, too.
I plastered a smile on my face as my brother’s Master of Dragons approached me. George Wilkins was a horrid man. His brutish ways of breaking Dragons consisted of violence and starvation.
I remembered the black blood poolingon the floor in the Dragon pens, and bile rose in my throat.
Worse yet, the man seemed to fancy me.
“Princess Summer,” he bowed.
“How are you finding this year’s Full Moon Feast?” he asked.
He nodded, unperturbed by my curtness. We stood in silence for a while, the awkwardness sinking into my bones.
Take the hint.
I looked to Culling, and he seemed to be holding in a smile.
Help me,I implored with my eyes..
He shot me back a wink.
“So, tell me, George,” Culling began, “how goes the harnesses you’ve been developing?”
“Harnesses?” I frowned.
“Ah, yes, the harnesses.” George’s face lit up. I hated how this man could get so excited over the cruelty to other creatures. It made me sick. “I’ve made a breakthrough. They’re complete.”
“Oh? Tell me more,” Culling said. I looked at him, and he had an air of self-satisfaction to him.
What was he up to?
“Through my research, I’ve discovered that the Dragons have a certain spot in their wings that is incrediblyreceptive to pain. By attaching the spike of the harnesses to that spot, a rider can control it effortlessly. Just a slight tug can bring even the mightiest of Dragons to heel.”
“Research?” I spluttered. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You mean torture. How could you do that to the Dragons?”
“They’re animals, princess.” George looked at me like I was the crazy one. “Think of them as beasts of burden. Like an ox. Or a horse.”
“You wouldn’t be this cruel to a horse,” I thundered.
“That’s because horses are docile,” Wilkins said. “That’s because horses aren’t capable of cutting an armored man in half or melting castle walls. We can only afford to be… kind… to them once they are tamed.”
“Dragon’s don’t need to be tamed.” I stepped away from Culling so I was face to face with Wilkins. I felt my hands ball up into fists. “Dragons need to be respected. They need to be befriended, not locked up and abused for our convenience.”
“Oh, princess.” Wilkins chuckled. “I don’t expect you to understand. You’re only a woman, after all. Leave these things to the—”
He never got to finish his sentence.
My hand flew across his face, the sound of the slap echoing in the night air.
Everyone nearby stopped to look. Wilkins stared at me, too shocked to be angry. At least for now.
I fumed silently, my hand stinging from the slap.
How dare he?
From the corner of my eyes, I saw guards begin to hover closer, ready to put down a ruckus. Ross guffawed, nearly choking on a block of cheese, which he washed down with a goblet of wine.
Culling’s face was impassive, unreadable.
And I saw another man that stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He was dressed in simple, but elegant silks, black as pitch. He was tall and handsome with swooping black hair, a devilish smile, and blue-green eyes that sparkled like the stars in the night.
And he was staring right at me.
I froze, my heart trying to claw its way out from my throat.
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