Thank you for waiting!! Today I’m giving a special shout-out to Ashleydhansen. Thank you for faithfully reading and liking these chapters. As far as I know you might be the only person other than my mom actually reading this, haha. I truly appreciate you :)
Find previous chapters here. And if you leave a comment, you may just get a shout-out, too ;)
The castle was quiet without the Princess. Logically, King Nicolas knew the absence of one girl plus three of her friends made minimal difference in a castle of a few hundred people. But he keenly felt the lack of her presence.
King Nicolas let himself miss his daughter on his walk from the breakfast hall to the guardhouse. He had a meeting with Captain Harbin, Garrin’s father.
“Good day to you, my liege,” the Captain greeted him with as deep a bow as his aging back allowed.
“Good day, Captain Harbin,” King Nicolas replied. “How are our defenses?”
Captain Harbin led him over to a tall, thin window. King Nicolas peered through it. Through the sliver he could make out four guards patrolling the nearest wall. “I’ve called all the guards to active duty,” Captain Harbin reported. “We’ve doubled shifts. I have a team reinforcing all entrances large enough to admit a dragon. And one of my men had the idea for these.” He held up two round gobs in the palm of his leather glove.
King Nicolas frowned. “What are those?”
The Captain rolled one of the gobs between his fingers. “Wax. Sir Lamarr told us the wyrm’s power comes from her voice. One of my young guards had the idea that, if none of us can hear her, we shall be beyond her power and thus able to fight her.”
“And this wax,” the King took the other gob from the Captain’s outstretched hand and squeezed it experimentally. “It blocks out sound?”
“When inserted into your ears, yes. It’s as if the world has gone silent.”
King Nicolas smiled. “Well done, Captain Harbin. Is there any way to send some to our children?”
Regret flitted across the Captain’s weather-worn face. “Alas, I know not where they are. Their plan was to take a circuitous, wandering route to make them more difficult to track.”
He nodded. “Then we must hope they discover this on their own. I bid you farewell for now, Captain. My wife awaits me.”
“Give Queen Laurene my respect,” Captain Harbin bid him.
With a nod of agreement, he strode out of the room and in search of the Queen, four gobs of wax held secure in his fist.
He found her staring out the eastern window in their private quarters. “Dearest, come away from the window,” he urged, taking her slender hand in his.
She squeezed his hand but kept her gaze trained on the horizon. “It matters not where I am when she comes, Nicolas. I would rather meet my end knowing it than wait in the dark for it to catch me.”
He reached around from behind her and held the wax balls for her to see. “We are not going to meet our ends, not by this dragon,” he told her. “I just saw Captain Harbin and look what he gave me. You stick them in your ears and they block out sound.”
Laurene looked up at him with a mixture of hope and grief. “Oh Nicolas,” she gasped, “but what if we outlive the dragon’s visit only to find Noemi did not?”
Fear twanged in his chest. How could they bear living if their daughter did not? He embraced his wife. “Do not think of such things, Laurene,” he begged. “Have hope. Perhaps Noemi’s beloved waits for her in the wilderness. Perhaps she will not fall prey to the dragon’s voice. Perhaps she will return to us and bring us a son to grow our family.”
“Perhaps.” Her voice was muffled against the velvet of his vest.
The door to their room banged against the stone wall. A young man clothed in Jerrett’s heraldry burst in. “My King and Queen,” he exclaimed, “the dragon is sighted!”
“Put these in,” King Nicolas pressed two ear plugs into the Queen’s hand. He squeezed his own and pressed them into his ears. The world grew strangely quiet except for the pounding of blood in his head. Laurene looked at him and nodded when her wax was in place. He took her hand and led the way through halls and passages to the castle keep. The courtiers, maids, and servants were already waiting behind the solid oak doors. Once they were inside, the young guard locked the door behind them.
No sooner were they secure than something strange happened to the air. It seemed to split in half. King Nicolas’s lungs froze. His eyes bulged.
The air slapped back together, vibrating. His hair stood on end, but his lungs worked again. A quick survey showed everyone else in the room wide-eyed but awake, bits of wax poking out of their ears.
All he could do was wait. King Nicolas hated idleness. This was a new form of discomfort, being forced to wait in hiding while his people fought for their lives and kingdom. He started pacing the length of the keep.
A few minutes into his pacing, the air split and clapped together again—and again—and again. The dragon must be angry that her voice wasn’t sending them all into interminable slumber.
Sweat began beading on King Nicolas’s brow. He pulled at the collar on his doublet. The room was growing warm.
Light shone brighter under the door. Then a yellow tongue licked through the crack.
The castle was on fire.
Nicolas pulled Laurene close to his side and backed away from the door. The keep’s floor was earth; its roof and walls were stone. They would survive.
The dragon would not get them today.