Hardcover, 407 pages
Published January 5th 2012 by Dial
Wilde Island is not at peace. The kingdom mourns the dead Pendragon king and awaits the return of his heir; the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is strained; and the regent is funding a bloodthirsty witch hunt, hoping to rid the island of half-fey maidens.
Tess, daughter of a blacksmith, has visions of the future, but she still doesn't expect to be accused of witchcraft, forced to flee with her two best friends, or offered shelter by the handsome and enigmatic Garth Huntsman, a warden for Dragonswood. But Garth is the younger prince in disguise and Tess soon learns that her true father was fey, making them the center of an exciting, romantic adventure, and an ancient prophecy that will bring about peace between all three races - dragon, human, and fairy.
Dragonswood was just across the road from our camp here in the cliff. I’d tried to convince Meg and Poppy we’d be safer walking inside the refuge. Dragonswood’s eastern wall traced Kingsway north to Oxhaven, where Grandfather lived, and beyond that all the way to Pendragon Castle. But my friends wouldn’t go over the wall. Poppy feared we might be fey-struck like Mad Jack, who’d gone off hunting one day, and returned a week later, singing, snarling, and pissing in public. Meg believed the gossip that the fey cruelly punished trespassers, casting spells on them and turning them into Treegrims. All the years I’d gone to Dragonswood, I’d never seen a dragon or a fairy harm a man or find a person magicked into a tree. Still, in our four days running north, I’d stayed on this side of the wall.
We’d not gone far enough; spent too many hours searching for food, begging in our leper’s garb. Tomorrow I would make my friends walk faster no matter how hungry we all were. I was thinking this, stirring the coals, when a woman’s high-pitched screams cut through the night. We all jumped up, alert and trembling.
“Where’s it coming from?” Poppy cried.We raced to the cliff edge overlooking town and harbor. Far below us, smoke rose from the town square. At first I thought a cottage was alight. Thatch roofs easily catch fire, and when they do, the house burns swiftly. But from our lookout spot, I focused on the rising smoke and saw now it came from a witch fire in the middle of the town square.
Townsfolk dressed in black moved in a great, slow circle around the bonfire. The girl they’d bound to the stake shrieked louder as the blaze raced across the logs, catching her white gown at the hem. Up on the cliff under the hawthorn trees, I clung to Meg and Poppy. Her screams ripped through us.
Two mounted figures rode in, the bonfire bathing them in golden light. Meg saw who it was and yelped. Poppy quickly covered her mouth. “The witch hunter can’t see us so far away up here,” she said. “And these trees and bushes will hide us.”
From behind us, I heard the deep woofing sound of pumping wings. A massive shadow swooped overhead. Against the night the dragon’s scales seemed black. Tail whipping in the wind, he dove for town. At first the townsfolk did not see him, so when the dragon swept into the square, tearing the girl and staff straight up from the burning pyre, the folk below had little time to run. Some few scrambled into shop doorways. Most dropped to the cobbles, covering their heads.
The dragon spooked Lady Adela’s horse, who galloped off full speed, the Gray Knight racing behind. High above the town, the dragon dipped up and down awkwardly, trying to reach the sea. The tip of his left wing burned, and so did the girl in his claws. He made it just beyond the harbor. Skimming but a few feet above the bay, he dipped both girl and wing in the water, and put the fire out.
Meg and Poppy stayed by the hawthorns, but I stepped out a little, watching the great dragon. Twice lit by the moonlight above and reflected in the sea, the dragon was the same old one I’d spied from the branches, the same one who’d dropped a turtle in the millpond. His yellowing scales and the long neck scar confirmed it.
His flight was so ragged from his damaged wing, I feared he might drop the girl, yet he kept aloft. Over the sound of waves, I heard the girl sobbing. She was injured from the fire and, no doubt, feared her rescuer, but I was sure the dragon meant to save her. I saw how he pressed her against his coppery chest scales as he soared closer to our cliff.
Somehow the dragon had unbound the stake the girl was tied to. He dropped the charred pole, and I jumped back as it hit the grass, tumbled off the cliff edge, and landed on the rocks below.
Too late the church bell down in Hessings Kottle rang out a dragon warning. He had already flown back to the sanctuary.
The bonfire burned. The girl was gone.
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