This week I’m going to give you a preview of DRAGONS’ CHOICE, the first novel in my Sorcha’s Children series. If you’ve been following along, at the end of October I put up a preview of SORCHA’S HEART, the novella that started it all and functions as the prequel to the series. Now, we move into the first of four novels…
by Debbie Mumford
Aislinn paced the edge of the heights, unable to focus on the majesty of the surrounding mountain range. Conflicting desires warred in her soul. Behind her, the community of dragons stirred to life, and her dragon-soul longed to fuse itself to her kin, never to be parted. But the suppressed humanity at her core dared her to leap into the clear, cold sky and soar to a destiny no dragon could attain. The desire, no, the need to metamorphose sang in her blood and sizzled in her bones. Her time had come.
She glanced down her long, supple body and admired the sparkle of reflected sunlight on her midnight blue scales. Long years had passed since she, or any of her sibs, had worn human form. She and her brothers and sisters had transformed often in their youth, both here in the ice aerie that housed the flight of dragons and in the castle down in the land of humans where their parents lived. The ability to shapeshift flowed through their essence, and they delighted in startling those around them, whether human or dragon, with unexpected switches.
But this was different. Aislinn had never attempted to put on her human form and remain in it. She ruffled her wings in anticipation.
“Are you certain, little one?”
Keeva’s question echoed through Aislinn’s mind and startled her back to awareness of her surroundings. Her human thoughts had so subjugated her dragon sense, she’d missed the sounds of her surrogate mother’s approach.
“No,” she answered truthfully. “I’m not certain of anything…except the pull within my soul.”
She faltered and gazed out over the jagged peaks of her beloved mountains, seeking solace in their familiar solidity. Humans might consider the mountains cruel and merciless, but to Aislinn, they represented security and peace. The range protected her home, the dragons’ ice aerie. She’d never lived anywhere else.
With a twitch of her barbed tail, she twisted her head to meet Keeva’s level stare.
The mauve dragon had been the first sight to greet Aislinn’s eyes when she’d hatched, twenty long years ago. Keeva and the rex had raised all six of Sorcha and Caedyrn’s children, and the unusual hatchlings had required all the ingenuity the mature dragons could muster. The impossible mixture of dragon and human blood had mutated the entire clutch into shapeshifters.
Aislinn and her siblings had hatched with the in-born ability—one they’d been unable to control until they reached fledgling status. Fledging dragons learned to fly; shape control became a necessary prerequisite.
“We can’t have you popping over to human form a thousand feet in the air,” the rex had warned them.
The desire—no, the need to fly had forced Sorcha’s children to gain mastery of their fluid bodies. But always, without exception, their true form, the one in which they spent ninety percent of their time, had been dragon. Now, Aislinn intended to reverse her natural inclination.
“I don’t know if I can do this, Keeva, but I must try.” She lowered her head, stretched her neck toward the mauve female and nuzzled her dragon-mother’s jaw affectionately with her forehead. “Will you give me your blessing, honored one?”
“Of course, Aislinn. My blessing and my love go with you wherever you fly.”
An intense spike of alien emotion stabbed Aislinn’s heart. She longed to throw herself into someone’s arms and weep. Definitely time to fly. Dragon’s didn’t cry—but humans did.
She spread her wings and hurled herself into the bright morning sky.
“Give my love to Sorcha and Caedyrn!”
Keeva’s final thought rang in Aislinn’s mind. Her wings caught the wind, and she arrowed toward the land of men.
“I will,” she answered, “and I will return!”
Sorcha found it difficult to settle to anything today. She’d attempted to concoct a potion to ease King Leofric’s rheumatism, but couldn’t concentrate on the spell’s fiddly details. Something was in the wind. Something momentous approached, and she knew she’d be uneasy until she identified the source of her restlessness.
Snatching a cloak from the peg beside her workroom door, Sorcha flung it around her shoulders and strode toward the courtyard. Perhaps she’d have clearer vision on the battlements.
You’re very twitchy today, my love, Caedyrn’s deep voice caressed the corners of her mind, and Sorcha smiled without missing a step. Her husband, the man who had given up leadership of the flight of dragons for her love, always knew her moods, even when he judged petitioners in Leofric’s hall.
A change is coming, she explained. I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it’s very near. Can you feel it too?
Aye, I can. Caedyrn’s thought slid effortlessly through her consciousness, but an inkling of unease trailed behind, confirming his awareness.
Sorcha reached the castle wall and climbed to the battlement. A guard observed her ascent, nodded to her when she gained the walkway and continued to patrol his assigned quadrant. Her fingers trailed along sun-warmed stone until she chose a crenellation and leaned against it. Though she gazed across planted fields, Sorcha fixated on her husband’s beloved face. Odd…Caedyrn had worn the form of human male for twenty years now, but she still pictured the magnificent black dragon in her dreams.
She sighed and pushed the memories of her dragon self to the back of her mind. Caedyrn, the man—dark-skinned, well-muscled, with close-cropped hair and eyes like the lake at midnight. A shiver of delight ran down her spine, and she whispered a blessing to the gods and goddesses for the gift of his love. Twenty years of marriage, and the mere thought of him still warmed her blood and provoked a delicious tingle that tightened her nipples. Their love crossed the boundaries of possibility and touched the mundane tasks of daily existence with the mystery of magic.
Sorcha scanned the landscape, but ignored the serene beauty of a countryside at peace. No wars ravaged this pleasant land, due in large part to herself and Caedyrn. She turned her attention to the skies and felt a flutter of anticipation—a tiny winged creature had captured her notice.
A bird, undoubtedly a bird, she told herself, though she strained to see more clearly. An unannounced visitation from a member of the flight was too much to hope for. Dragons kept their own company, rarely visiting the land of men unless called upon to fulfill the terms of the treaty Sorcha and Caedyrn had helped create. Sorcha still considered herself a member of the flight. She had clutched six dragon offspring, but rarely saw one of the magnificent beasts.
The flying speck continued to enlarge, and Sorcha’s heart thundered. Slowly, it evolved into something too large to be a bird. Gripping the stone parapet so hard her knuckles whitened, she opened a link to Caedyrn, all thoughts of his duties in the king’s hall scattered.
I’m judging a fairly complex case at the moment, he responded to her excited touch. Can this wait?
A dragon, she sang into his mind. Caedyrn, there’s a dragon approaching, and it isn’t one of the usual messengers.
She experienced a flare of anticipation and a mingled whiff of grief, which he quickly masked.
I’ll be right there.
Sorcha scrutinized the soaring dragon, drinking in the flawless beauty of its flight. Her imagination soared, and she relived the exhilaration of wind in her face: eyes protected by nictitating membranes; the stretch of well-conditioned muscles lifting her body, straining against and finally working with the powerful currents in the air; like a fish, delighting in the struggle to move upstream amid invisible currents, defying the flow’s repeated attempts to swamp her efforts.
Gods and goddesses, she missed flying, and she had only worn dragon-form a few months. She could barely imagine Caedyrn’s sense of loss.
He’d forfeited so much for her. Her lover, her husband, the other half of her soul had given up the freedom of the skies to crawl along the earth with her. She understood his sacrifice—she had been a dragon long enough to learn their customs, mate with Caedyrn and clutch his eggs—but her deprivation couldn’t compare to his. He had been born to the skies. A powerful amulet had transformed her.
The winging dragon came close enough to be seen properly, and Sorcha’s ruminations about her mate’s loss ceased abruptly.
“Aislinn,” Sorcha cried and then pressed her hands to her mouth. She laughed, pleased her daughter was still too far distant for the sound of her voice to irritate tender dragon ears. Open air absorbed the most disturbing reverberations of human speech, but Sorcha would curb her vocal enthusiasm until her daughter had transformed.
Odd that the pitiful mewlings of humanity caused dragons pain when their own bellowing roars and deep gravelly voices didn’t. True, they seldom used vocalizations in the aerie, preferring mind-speech, but Sorcha knew from experience their own sounds were not painful.
She frowned, grappling with the conundrum she had all but forgotten. Perhaps the higher pitches of human speech, or maybe some small thing inaudible to humans, caused the problem. After all, dogs heard things no human could detect. Perhaps dragons had similar abilities.
Sorcha glanced at the sky and pushed the puzzle of dragon hearing aside. Aislinn would land momentarily. Sorcha spun around, ran toward the stairs…and collided with Caedyrn.
“Who is it?” he asked, grabbing her arms and steadying her so she didn’t pitch off the battlement. “Can you tell yet who has come?”
“It’s Aislinn,” she cried, pulling free and racing down the stairs and along the wall. “One of our children has come at last. Oh, Caedyrn!”
Sorcha jostled the gatekeeper aside and lunged for the postern gate.
“Open it quickly,” called Caedyrn to the confused gatekeeper, “or my wife might tear it down.”
Sorcha scowled over her shoulder, but relaxed immediately. Caedyrn also pelted toward the gate. Laughing, she stood aside while the gatekeeper pulled the door open and bowed her out.
With Caedyrn at her side, Sorcha picked up her skirts and fairly flew to the meadow where her dragon-kin were wont to land.
“If I’d known she was coming, I’d have had a gown ready for her,” she said, pulling her own cloak from her shoulders.
Caedyrn laid a restraining hand on hers and said, “Allow me, my love. You keep your cloak and stay warm. Indulge a father’s need to protect his offspring.”
She resettled her cloak and grasped Caedyrn’s hand.
Aislinn landed softly before them and shimmered from midnight blue dragon to raven-haired woman. Sorcha snatched the offered cloak from her husband, who waited with averted eyes, and sprinted the last few steps to her daughter’s side.
“You’re cold,” she said and wrapped Aislinn in the fur-lined cloak. “Just look at the blue tinge to your skin!”
Aislinn laughed, a musical, lilting melody. “No, lady mother,” she said, hugging Sorcha with flight-toned human arms. “I thank you for the cloak’s warmth, but my skin is always a little blue. I’m a blue dragon after all.”
“Of course,” Sorcha said with a laugh, thrilled to have this grown daughter safe in her arms. “Welcome home, Aislinn! We’re so glad you’ve come.” She closed her eyes and savored the smell of fresh air and sunlight that clung to her daughter’s hair. “Caedyrn, come greet your daughter. She’s well enough covered for a father’s hug.”
Caedyrn strode to them and wrapped them both in strong, dark-skinned arms. “Welcome, child.”
Emotion vibrated in his husky voice, and Sorcha realized tears streaked her own face. The trio stood locked in a multi-armed embrace, unable, or unwilling, to relinquish the long-denied physical contact.
Finally, Aislinn squirmed and said, “Perhaps we should take this indoors?”
Her parents laughed, wiped their streaming eyes and led her to the castle gate.
“Gatekeeper, guards, everyone within sound of my voice,” boomed Caedyrn. “Attend me! This is the Lady Aislinn, our daughter. Extend to her every courtesy you would to the Lady Sorcha or myself.”
And so they entered the courtyard of the keep to the sound of cheers and hearty applause, and Sorcha smiled to see the rosebud blush bloom on her child’s blue-tinged cheeks.
Want to know what happens next? Find Dragons’ Choice at your favorite online bookseller!
Want to read the entire series? Find my Sorcha’s Children Omnibus Edition here!
Dragons’ Choice is also available as an audio book! You can find information here.