Chapter 1: Summer's Farewell
Jamie pulled on a shirt and was surprised at how foreign it felt to be wearing something on his torso. It had been months since he and Scott had started going shirtless in the perfect weather of the hatching grounds, and Jamie had finally grown accustomed to being without some sort of protection from prying eyes. All his life he had tried to hide the scars on his body for fear that someone would recognize them and realize what a mess he was, but now he had scars to be proud of: the scars from his fight with Marisol.
He hadn’t realized it when he was first attacked by Marisol, but Tarragon society valued scars highly and the three long streaks across his belly were proof that he was a tried and true member of the society. The other, older dragon partners who came to hear about the revolution he was starting looked at him with more respect when they saw his scars, one of the many reasons he and Scott had ditched their shirts. They needed all the help they could get in persuading people to turn against Ashton, and Jamie was prepared to let people see his scars if that’s what it took.
“How is the packing going?” Kale asked, peeking into the large tent that Scott had bought on one of his trips back to the campus. Scott hadn’t been enthused at the idea of sleeping out in the open, so on one of his first trips to the campus he had ordered all sorts of camping supplies at the academy’s expense, and now he, Jamie, and Kale had an elaborate campsite with many modern amenities.
“Good,” Jamie said. “I wish you could come.”
Kale had joined them in Marisol’s hatching ground a couple of weeks after Jamie and Scott moved to the hatching ground for the summer. Only two people came to visit Jamie and Scott, and they were both sworn to secrecy about Kale’s presence. Of those two people, Jamie knew that Eric would never breathe a word. Eric had been the one to save Kale’s life when Ashton attacked the man and tried to kill him on the mountaintop, and if Ashton found out about Eric’s interference, not even Eric’s position on the Tarragon council would protect him.
Jamie wasn’t as sure about the other man who came to visit, Mike Ferrin. Mike used to be one of Jamie’s teachers and Jamie knew that he still harbored inappropriate thoughts about Jamie, but his heart had been swept away by Ashton. Everything he did seemed to be for Ashton, but there was always a bitterness when he spoke of the man. It was impossible to tell if Mike loved him or hated him, and Jamie couldn’t predict when or if Mike would reveal Kale’s presence to Ashton. He hadn’t so far, but he still might. Mike’s dragon was a similar conflict of desires, though Eraxes was firmly of the belief that Ashton was an evil person. Jamie just didn’t know if that belief extended to Mike or not. It was puzzling.
Jamie knew he was walking into danger by returning to the campus, but he also knew he couldn’t stay at the hatching grounds forever. As much as he had enjoyed spending the summer alone with only a few friends and visitors, he needed to be surrounded by people again. He had always considered himself an introvert, but perhaps there was a little extravert in him after all because he was starting to crave being around people. Not a lot of people, just enough so that he wasn’t the center of attention. Maybe that was it. Maybe it was an introvert impulse after all. He was just tired of having everyone coming to visit him, and he wanted to be able to sink into the background for once.
After all, every week or so Scott would bring new dragons and new people to speak with Jamie. All were people who hated Ashton and believed he needed to go, and they needed to know that Jamie was capable of leading them through the battle. Jamie had to be strong and commanding, and Marisol had to be on her best behavior. It was exhausting work, and at night Jamie often wept and worried that he would disappoint everyone because no matter what he made those people believe, in truth he wasn’t strong enough and he knew deep down he would fail. Scott would rock him then, and hold him, and whisper encouragement in his ear. Sometimes it would silence him, but the doubts remained.
Jamie finished packing some of their souvenirs from the summer into a small backpack and looked up at Kale.
“You’ll be okay on your own here?”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m about to get the big tent.”
Jamie smiled. With Jamie and Scott gone, Kale would be moving into the circus-like tent they normally stayed in. They would be leaving a lot of their gear for Kale to use, as well. With Marisol protecting the boundaries of the hatching ground from intruders, there was no threat of theft, and Marisol had assured them many times that there were no animals larger than the squirrels on the island. She would not allow it.
Which also meant that she had barely fed all summer. Scott’s dragon Narné had brought her several cows over the long months, but couldn’t bring too many because it was so difficult to fly with a living, struggling creature. Marisol had learned to fish from Mike’s dragon, but didn’t enjoy the fish at all and only ate them as a last resort. Kale’s dragon Vestis had attempted to persuade her to eat some of the greenery, but she spat it out and insisted that only meat would work. She had enough to eat, but the longer she stayed, the grumpier she was becoming and Jamie knew it was in direct proportion to the amount she was eating. Unfortunately, even though he and Scott were returning to the campus, Marisol insisted on remaining with her eggs. She planned on staying with them until they hatched, which would be another three months or so. Jamie just hoped she could last that long with the meager food supplies she was getting.
Kale would be in charge of her, and Scott would continue to attempt to bring her cows to eat. It was as good a plan as any, since Jamie and Scott couldn’t stay at the hatching ground any longer. Jamie hated to admit it, but they were needed back at school. It was time to return to class.
The familiar scent of honey washed over Jamie’s senses and a smile softened his face as he looked around for Scott. Sure enough, Scott was just hopping off Narné’s back outside the tent. Jamie zipped up the backpack and slid his arms through the straps. He was mostly bringing sentimental items, leaving the practical things in case they had to return in a hurry and couldn’t pack. Besides, they had everything they needed back at their apartment in dragon canyon on campus.
“I guess this is it,” Jamie said, looking around at the large campsite, with its firepit that the dragons lit every night, the two small tents beside the large tent that had been his home for the past three months, the worn places in the grass from where their feet had trod so many times it left a trail. His eyes followed the trail for a minute. The only thing he wouldn’t miss was the outhouse. Jamie was grateful to be able to go somewhere with running water for a change. His eyes swept the campsite. It was the only thing he wouldn’t miss; the rest was dear to him. But he knew he would be back, and he dreaded coming back. When he returned, it would be to lead an army, not for pleasure. When he returned, it would be because there were no other options. He hoped it would be quite a while before he returned.
He and Scott said their goodbyes to Kale, then mounted Narné. The great dragon leapt into the air and circled the island so that Jamie could get a good view of Marisol, still circling her eggs. He wasn’t allowed anywhere near her or her eggs, and he was grateful for this last look in what might be a long time.
I am always with you, Marisol said, her voice ringing through his head. He grinned and acknowledged the sentiment.
But sometimes, he replied, it is nice to see you.
I will see you again soon.
He waved, knowing she was probably too far away to see but knowing she would feel the gesture, and then Narné let out a beautiful song that allowed them to travel from whatever alternate dimension the hatching ground existed in to Mount Tarragon. As the mist cleared around them, it began to rain, a light, Portland rain. By the time Narné made it into their home in dragon canyon, both he and Scott were soaked and freezing. The hatching grounds had been warm, and Portland was significantly cooler, even though it was probably quite warm for normal Portland weather.
Ashton and half the council waited for them and for a moment, Jamie panicked and thought they were about to be arrested for their attempts to undermine Ashton’s control. But when they slid off Narné – having no other options – Ashton instead embraced Jamie.
“Welcome back, Queen,” he said. “We have missed you during your absence. Should you need anything, you have only to ask me or the council.”
Jamie nodded, too frightened to say anything. He had forgotten how imposing Ashton was, and how handsome. Were they really trying to go up against this man? He was a charming, charismatic leader who already held the loyalty of Tarragon society, and Jamie was nothing, would be nothing if he hadn’t happened to hatch a Queen dragon. Why were people agreeing to help him? Sudden thoughts of traps and lies filled his mind, but he pushed them aside. Everyone who had agreed to join Jamie’s cause was sincere. He had looked into the minds of their dragons and read their sincerity. Ashton might be behaving right now, but Jamie had to remember how manipulative the man could be. This was an act, nothing more.
The other council members welcomed Jamie as well and shook his hand, and he allowed it numbly, barely feeling the firm grasps of the men. It was all men; none of the women were present. That made sense, he thought. It was the start of the school year and they were likely on their separate campus getting the new students ready. It was probably a great honor to be greeted like this, and here he was acting like a scared animal. He took a deep breath.
“Thank you, Ashton and council members,” he said, trying to regain his confidence from the last time he had met with the council. “I look forward to working with you this school year.”
Ashton’s lips quirked as if in amusement, and Jamie realized he had just placed himself as an equal to the council. But none of the other council members seemed phased by what he had just said; they seemed to expect it. They filed out of his room, Ashton last. Ashton took his hand before leaving.
“I look forward to working with you, too, little one,” he said.
Jamie could feel Scott tensing behind him and he released Ashton’s hand, hoping the man would take a hint. It almost felt like Ashton was hitting on him, but surely Ashton wouldn’t hit on him so soon after arriving, not after everything Ashton had already done to him. Ashton let go and left the room.
“That jerk,” Scott muttered, grabbing Jamie’s hand and kissing it as if his lips could rid Jamie’s skin of Ashton’s touch.
Jamie said nothing, just made exaggerated gestures towards the ceiling corners. Scott took the hint. If the council were waiting for them in their quarters, it was almost certain that the council, or Ashton at least, had gone through their things and planted bugs to listen in on their conversations. They had swept the place once, before leaving, but now they would have to start from scratch. And until they felt confident about getting every bug, they couldn’t complain about Ashton. It would give away the game. Although a few odd comments wouldn’t be amiss, Jamie thought. It was well-known that Ashton and Scott hated each other, so nothing Scott had said was out of place. But if they let anything slip about the war, or recruiting, or anything like that, it would be all over.
Jamie shivered. Having a modern bathroom was nice, but he had forgotten what it felt like to be caged, to be under the constant scrutiny of others. It was the reason he and Scott had run away to the hatching grounds in the first place and now that he was back, he could feel the iron bars tightening into a noose around him. But he wouldn’t give up. He would find some way to escape.
He turned to Scott to express some of his thoughts, but Scott held up a hand to silence him, a vague look on his face meaning that he was talking to Narné. Then he kissed Jamie’s forehead.
“I have to go, sweetheart. You can get settled without me, can’t you?”
“Go? Go where?”
“I’ll have Narné send for you when we’re ready. Be prepared.”
He left without another word. Jamie slid his backpack on the ground and stared at the door, then at Narné, who went to the ledge and jumped off into the dragon canyon. Five minutes home and already he was alone again. Where had Scott gone?