Eighteen year old Alecca is set to join Ciburon, the new leader of the House of Xyamaira and become the most powerful rulers of Telen, their world. But amid the ceremonies that will bind the two dragons forever, Kytam, a rival from a smaller realm seeks to take Alecca for his own, thus gaining control of the world. There is no history of war on their world, but war comes anyway. Kytam must be stopped if there is ever to be peace again among dragons and frails.
The Dragons of Winter
The last dregs of Xyamaira’s pale winter sun left its golden rays on the slopes above Kalec’s Keep. When Tlalon, Radynne’s housemate, threw open the heavy curtains to let the early morning sun into Alecca’s room, he rolled away from the bolt of pain in his head and groaned. The sound earned him a sharp slap on his bare ass.
“Go away,” he muttered from under his down pillow. When that was dragged away, he threw himself on his back and glared at his mother’s lover. “You’re back.”
“Yes, I’m back and your mother sent me to tell you it’s time to get up.” Tlalon’s voice grew silky. “Ciburon will be here in less than six hours. You want to be ready for him, don’t you?”
“Six hours? Ban’don! Why didn’t you wake me earlier?” Alecca cursed and bolted upright, grabbing his temples at the pain that shot through his head. Sharp stones pressed against his skull, pushing his eyes out of their sockets. His mouth tasted like the bottom of a dung pit.
“That’s why, Lex,” Tlalon said dryly. “Too much wine last night. You should have listened to your mother and gone to bed at a civilized hour instead of playing dice half the night.”
Alecca grunted and Tlalon laughed.
"Aye, Stone Island wine goes down smooth as honey, but it has spines in it when it gets into your head the next mornin'.”
Alecca knew the man was right, but he didn’t feel like being lectured. Not today. He stood, blinking and swaying on the cold stone floor. Curling his toes away from the chill, he followed Tlalon obediently through the short corridor to the bath house. The bath was already full of others. Some looked as bad as he felt. He caught Daigon’s eye and grimaced. Daigon had matched him drink for drink last night around the dying fire, after everyone else had grown a brain and gone to bed. This morning they were both paying for that indulgence. Alecca would have liked nothing better than to crawl back into bed, even as he knew that refuge was no longer his. After today, he would be leaving his childhood home for good. Either at Ciburon’s side as his mate or in servitude as a neutered geld or guard.
An hour later, having sweated most of the alcohol out of his blood and feeling nearly alive,
Alecca sat down with his mother and Tlalon for breakfast. Bral had just served the first course when there was a commotion in the courtyard outside. Everyone at the table paused.
Alecca knew the moment his father arrived. There was a change in the atmosphere of the hall. His mother looked up from her breakfast, her unlined face lighting up with pleasure, even as an ox bellowed in terror. Probably some peddler bringing his wares up from New Landon in the valley not used to seeing dragons so close. At a sign from Tlalon, Bral, the house geld, left the room.
The bellowing quieted. Moments later, boot-steps rang on the flag stone steps leading into the vestibule outside the dining hall. The door burst open and Bral hurried in.
“Lord Kalec sends his greetings. He wishes to meet with the boy.”
Radynne and Tlalon traded glances. She nodded and Bral bowed and left. Ticks later she returned, followed by Alecca’s father.
Kalec strode into the room, looking exactly as he had the last time Alecca had seen him nine years ago. Before that time his father had been a steady, loving presence in his life. Then the day he had known was coming, but denied, had arrived. His mother had taken him aside and told him it was time for his father to go.He remembered throwing a tantrum, at least that’s what he had thought it was at the time. Only later did he realize it had been his first shift. He’d known that was coming, too, but hadn’t realized his body’s changes meant it had already begun. In his rage, he lashed out at his mother.
“I don’t want him to go. Tell him he has to stay. I’ll be good. I promise.”
She had been patient at first, trying to explain why Kalec couldn’t stay, the terrible things that would happen if he did.
Alecca wouldn’t have any of it. Finally his mother had grown weary of his tears. She had slapped him, the first time anyone had ever touched him with pain. Rage filled him. Red film covered his eyes and he tasted blood. It was only later that he realized he had bitten his tongue. Radynne had shown no fear, though he raged and fumed for nearly ten minutes. All the time it was like he stood outside himself, watching his fury spiral out of control.
Finally his mother had touched his face and her cool fingers jerked him back to sanity.
“Now you understand,” was all she said.
His tutor, Jandi, had explained it better. “You're coming into your manhood, Lex, and until you learn to control your urges, you are a threat to any male who is around you,” she said. “You would have been no match for Kalec. He would kill you and regret it the rest of his life.”
He didn’t exactly cool down, but Jandi’s words did sober him. He’d known this exile from his father would come soon after he reached puberty. A male dragon couldn’t be around other males who could compete in their rut. Alecca knew that, but he had been so close to solid, gentle Kalec that part of him had hoped their relationship would survive his first shifting. When it didn’t and his feral nature erupted in blind rage, he knew his mother had been right.
Now his father was back. Another sign he was an adult, or so everyone told him.
He stood and approached the broad-shouldered, dark-haired man he remembered so well, despite the years between them. When Kalec smiled, all those years fell away. Alecca was aware of the internal conflict that filled him at the sight of his father’s gold, slit-eyed gaze. Part of him wanted to fling himself into Kalec’s arms, but another part wanted to take his blade and slice the older man's belly open, watching his guts spill on the cold marble floor. He did neither. Instead, signaling his obeisance to his liege, he stiffly bowed his head. He exposed his neck, bare of the brands he would wear later. Kalec dipped his head in return, the
two spiraling dragon brands visible on either side of his neck. Alecca remembered, as a child, tracing their rough outline with chubby fingers. How magical they had seemed.
“Alecca e Kalec, you've grown tall.”
Alecca puffed with pride. “I am at your service, Lord.”
Kalec glanced over at Radynne. Alecca saw her nod; his heart quickened.
“Ciburon sent me a message this morning. He’s been delayed. He won’t arrive until tomorrow’s sunset. Is that acceptable to you?”
Alecca stared at his father. He was being asked? That was novel. All his life he had been told what to do. He was inkesh, a student of the dragon ways. His father was now letting him know he was a man, ready to fulfill the role he had been born to. To become Ciburon’s mate and ascend with him to the throne of Xyamaira as the new Xyama, replacing his father and his life mate, Llandra. He was dragoncross, the offspring of a dragon and a female frail mating and this was his destiny.
He stumbled over his reply, “Yes, sir. I expected him today.”
“Yes, well, Ciburon moves in his own way. You’ll learn that soon enough.”
Was it his imagination or was his father smiling at him? Then he realized his mother was too,and even Tlalon wore a look of paternal amusement. Not surprising. Tlalon had been the first male Alecca could be around without wanting to kill him since he had no dragon blood in him.He truly had been a substitute father for a boy who had felt so abandoned at a difficult time in his life.
Elation filled him. He pulled himself to his full height, noting with surprise he was looking down at Kalec by a good inch. The pupils of Kalec’s eyes widened, almost turning into ovals. He was startled.
Abruptly he held out his arm. Alecca clasped it and felt his father’s rough fingers close over his bicep. His flesh was warm and scarred, some new since Alecca had last seen him.
“I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but you've grown.”
Alecca squeezed Kalec’s arm, then released it. “I'm not done yet.”
“No, I guess you're not.” Again Kalec and Radynne shared a look. “He’s a fine one. I chose well.”
“He’ll be a strong leader,” his mother agreed, looking smug.
Kalec grew serious. His eyes had gone back to narrow slits, barely visible in the golden iris.
“He’d better be. Kytam is back.”