by Debbie Mumford
Nictitating lids shielded Brandubh’s eyes from the lash of glacial wind. Air currents pushed against his wings, and he savored the effort his downstroke required. Joy welled in his heart as he fought the sky for dominance. He was dragon. A lord of the sky. He caught a stream of wind and relaxed his wings into the most advantageous angle to drift along its unseen course.
Moonlight sparkled on the ice below, turning the glacier of his homeland into a diamond-studded treasure. A hoard to tempt the soul of any dragon, but Brandubh was not any dragon. Brandubh and his five siblings were a race apart, a clutch of shifters born of an impossible love. Their father, a mighty black dragon named Caedyrn, had been the heir apparent to the Rex of the ice aerie when he lost his heart to a valiant human wizard: Sorcha.
With more courage than caution, their mother, Sorcha, had sought the Heart of Fire. She believed the legendary amulet would provide her people with protection from the ravages of dragon-kind. Unfortunately, Sorcha had neglected to count the cost of possessing an object of such power. The Heart of Fire transformed her into a pearly pink dragon — which led to the clutching of Brandubh and his siblings.
Created of a mix of human and dragon blood, the siblings had demonstrated their unique abilities within moments of hatching. The adults in their world had found it challenging to raise hatchlings who could pop from dragon to human to dragon in the blink of an eye, but the Rex and his assistant had managed the feat. The shifter siblings had been raised in the ice aerie under the watchful tutelage of the Rex because the Heart of Fire, in a display of dispassionate power, had returned Sorcha to human form forcing Caedyrn to choose between his species and his love. He chose Sorcha.
The Heart of Fire had condescended to perform a last act before vanishing from the mortal realm, the transformation of the black dragon into a dark-skinned, naked, human male. The clutch of eggs the ensorcelled couple left behind had been adopted by the Rex in particular and the ice aerie’s flight as a whole.
Brandubh wrested control of both thoughts and wing. Pulling out of the comfortable skim, he circled the aerie a final time and arrowed toward Glengorm. He’d been apart from Aislinn and Taran too long. The time had come to see if humanity fit him as well as it did his married sibs.
Married. He understood the human concept of wedded fidelity. After all, dragons bonded for life once they chose their mates, but Aislinn and Taran had chosen human mates. Brandubh liked Ewan, the Rossali prince his sister Aislinn had chosen, and Senga, Taran’s wife, seemed a nice enough girl, but they weren’t dragons, weren’t even dragon-shifters.
He didn’t understand how Aislinn and Taran could bear to mate with non-dragons. Why, Aislinn couldn’t even mind-speak her mate. Taran and Senga had overcome that barrier due to Taran’s innate wizardry, but even so, the alienation from all things dragon made Brandubh’s skin crawl.
Brandubh shook himself to clear his head and concentrated on his chosen path. He would fly to Glengorm, present himself in human form to King Leofric, and then visit with his parents and each of his human sibs. He was determined to hold human form for at least three months. His record to date was the fortnight he’d spent in Glengorm after Taran’s marriage, but that had been two years ago.
Though it seemed every eligible female in the aerie had expressed interest in him, he had yet to find a dragon he desired to fly. Perhaps he, too, was doomed to mate with a human. The time had come to discover his destiny.
His long, rambling musings had brought him over the land of men. Despite the lateness of the hour, his dragon vision pierced the night’s dark veil and showed him neat rows of furrowed fields, tidy homesteads and pens of sleeping flocks. Leofric’s castle lay just over the next ridge of hills.
Sorting gently through available mind-links, Brandubh chose his father’s.
Father. Wake and hear me, sir.
Caedyrn’s adroit mind came alert beneath his touch.
What is it, Brandubh? Are you in danger?
Brandubh snorted a gout of fire into the headwind of his flight, but kept his amusement out of the link. If he were in danger, what could his father do? Caedyrn had given up his powerful body and the ability to fly.
All is well, Father. I have left the aerie to try my luck as a man. I will arrive soon.
Caedyrn’s link-aura relaxed.
I am pleased, my son. Your mother will be delighted to see you. A ripple of laughter spread across the link. And anything that delights my wife pleases me. I will meet you in the courtyard with appropriate garb.
Thank you, sir. I’ll be with you soon.
Brandubh released the link and scanned the countryside for the familiar sight of Leofric’s castle. His first visits to his parents had been accomplished in the claws of the Rex or one of his retinue, but that had been before Brandubh had learned to control his shifting. The sibs had been late learning to fly, because the Rex refused practice flights until they demonstrated control of their forms.
Brandubh retained foggy memories of his first visit to his human kin. The dragons had traded with local mountain folk for rush baskets in which to transport the hatchlings. The Rex had deemed it unwise to attempt a long flight clutching dragonets who transformed into human infants without notice. The younglings had been placed in the baskets where the vagaries of their shape wouldn’t endanger the journey.
There! He spied the castle, rising majestically from within encircling walls. Few lights glimmered in the castle itself, but fires burned orange and yellow from the watchtowers at the corners of the walls.
He drew nearer. A torch appeared in the courtyard, undoubtedly Caedyrn making his way to the practice yard where his dragon kin were wont to land. Brandubh angled his wings and descended to the world of men.
Welcome, Brandubh. Despite their physical nearness, Caedyrn greeted his son through their link. Human speech hurt dragon ears, and though the open air of the courtyard mitigated the pain, Caedyrn eschewed speech.
Without replying, Brandubh transformed. Where a great black dragon had stood, a dark-skinned youth crouched, naked and vulnerable.
Caedyrn stepped forward, flung a cloak around Brandubh’s shoulders and handed his son a bundle of cloth. “Why don’t we go inside? You can dress in the guardroom.”
Brandubh grinned and hugged his father. “The proprieties must be observed, eh? Even in the middle of the night?”
Caedyrn returned the hug and stepped back, a flash of white teeth acknowledging his son’s jest. “You know how humans are. Best to be properly garbed if we meet any in the corridors.”
Warmth flooded Brandubh’s heart. Even after all these years, his father still didn’t fully identify with the humans he lived among. Perhaps he had more in common with his sire than he realized. “Fine,” he said, eyeing the unwanted bundle. “Let’s see if I can remember how to fasten all these layers of cloth.”
Want to know what happens next? Find Dragons’ Flight at your favorite online bookseller!
Want to read the entire series? Find my Sorcha’s Children Omnibus Edition here!