This is an excerpt from chapter five of Dragon Spirit. Enjoy!
When we entered Nicondre’s stateroom, the talk died. Everyone else had already arrived and taken their seats. Now they turned to examine me, different levels of surprise ranging from mild distaste to hearty welcome on all of their faces. It took all of my will not to edge behind my cousin and out of their view. What had I been thinking to come here? There wasn’t even a place for me.
It was Nicondre who recovered first and rose to retrieve another chair from the open sitting room behind him. One of the diplomats retrieved a set of dishes from the drawers beneath the table and, after a few minutes of shuffling, an extra place was set. Miah was seated across from the prince and I next to her. To my other side was a well-dressed nobleman who looked rather worse for the wear.
Dinner began with pea soup and polite small talk. Miah engaged in conversation with the woman on her other side and my nobleman neighbor was exchanging pleasantries with Kozaken, leaving me to focus entirely on the soup. I looked up once at the mention of Ohmlaur to find Prince Nicondre frowning at me. I hastily dropped my eyes again. By the time the main course arrived, everyone had gotten over the shock of my appearance and were sharing heroic tales of hunts gone awry or expeditions to foreign lands.
“I once traveled to the Athwyn Hills of Salvyn and let me tell you!” a man down the table exclaimed, setting his knife on his plate with a clang. His pronunciation of the Hills’ name made the man beside me cringe, and I realized that he must be originally from Salvyn, even though he spoke Ibvailyn well. Had Vahn taught him? The man down the table went on. “The people there are the strangest I’ve ever encountered! They paint their faces and chests to look like scales. Some of the women even shave their heads and paint their scalps! They worship myths – some half-human creature called Rikar or something and its beast mate!”
“How horrid!” a woman said in disgust.
“And that’s not even the worst of it, but I’ll spare you at the table! They’ve never even herad of the Path. The Council of Salvyn lets them govern themselves. Those people don’t even know they’re part of the Empire!”
“The Empire is doomed.” Miah’s voice rang in my ears.
The man who’d been speaking leaned against the table. “What’s that?”
“The Ibvailyn Empire is doomed. Death spawned it, death will take it back. Its people will drown and burn and drown again. And it’s your fault,” she snarled, swinging an accusing finger up at the prince. “You’re as much to blame as they are! They had no right!”
Miah sprung out of her chair and lunged across the table, scattering dishes and spilling goblets of wine. Her foot caught my chin and knocked me sideways into the Salvyni nobleman. The woman on her other side shrieked. The room was in chaos. Kozaken pulled the prince backwards, brandishing a short knife at Miah as she scrabbled across the table.
Without thinking I seized my cousin’s ankle and yanked her backwards, toppling onto the floor and dragging her down on top of me. She thrashed out of my hold and spun, grasping my tunic in shaking fists. She snarled down at me, her face contorted in a way I’d never seen before.
“Wicked woman! You try to kill me! You should’ve died already – you should’ve been drowned at birth as Trader’s used to be!”
In horror I squirmed out of her grip, aided the nobleman striking her from behind. She whirled on him, hissing.
“Miah!” I shouted. “Stop this!”
She paused and twisted around to look over her shoulder at me. “Miah. I am Miah.”
“Yes,” I said, levering myself to my feet.
She rose out of her crouch. Around her the dinner party withdrew. She swayed. “Lacey?”
It took all my training on the Path to step forward and steady her. She looked at me from beneath lowered lashes, an animal smile parting her lips.
“You’re going to die,” she whispered.
My grip tightened on her and, with strength I did not know I had, I hauled her from the room. She struggled against me but I did not let go until we reached our cabin. I pushed her inside and then leaned in to catch the door. The look on her face stilled me.
“I am going to kill you.”
I slammed the door shut.
Take care, fellow travelers!