The King's Dragon Teaser
The King’s Dragon is out in a week! And I have absolutely no chill about dragons, so if Sam and I can’t give you the whole thing right this very instant, we can give you the first chapter.
Some days would be forever pressed to the forefront of Tristram’s mind. The day he met his cousin, Prince Reynold. The day his mother told him he was a half-dragon bastard.
The day of King Edmund’s funeral.
All kings were beloved in theory, but Reynold’s father, Edmund, had been a truly great one. He’d been a bland man, dull and uninteresting in conversation, without half his son’s charisma, but he’d been exceptionally good at the daily tasks of ruling a kingdom. The people loved the image of handsome, impeccable Reynold hosting tourneys and throwing lavish feasts in the palace. They had loved what Edmund had done for them.
That wasn’t to say Tristram thought his friend an incapable leader. He simply wasn’t the workhorse his father had been.
Tristram’s black velvet doublet and matching hose were some of the finest he owned, as much as he couldn’t stand the sight of them. They were strangely comfortable for clothes he hardly ever wore, but they made his pale hair look white by contrast, and that made him stand out more than he cared to. He finished pulling on his boots and stared down at them.
His dagger lay on the bed, shiny and eye-catching, like a beacon. It was rarely far from his mind, but the fact that he’d chosen such a flashy thing made it hard to forget.
Was it appropriate to wear on his person to the king’s funeral?
It was not.
He turned and headed for the door, but before he’d even made it halfway, he’d turned and headed back for the bed. With hardly a conscious thought, he had the dagger in his hand, and he was tucking it into his boot.
“A good idea,” said a voice from the doorway, startling him.
He looked up to find Reynold standing there, looking tense and unhappy. He’d been like that since the beginning of his father’s illness, but it was still strange to see. Reynold had always been good at accepting surprises as they came, but since last winter—since his father’s illness had taken a turn for the worst—he’d been closing himself off. Maybe he was preparing himself for the trials to come. Ruling all of Llangard was a burden Tris couldn’t begin to imagine.
“Good idea?” he asked.
Reynold motioned to Tristram’s hand, still on the dagger hilt. “Coming prepared. You never know who is about, or what their intentions are.” His hand clenched and unclenched, eyes on the dagger, as though he wanted to snatch it for himself. That was a feeling Tris knew all too well, but he’d never seen it on his cousin before. Reynold never left the palace grounds without at least two guards by his side, and this day would be no different. While he had trained with a sword, he had never had much use for one. The Spires, the main seat of the Cavendish line, was impregnable, drawn straight out of the earth in huge towers by the magic of Athelstan Cavendish himself.
“Shall we walk out together?” He suspected the answer would be no, since Reynold was always concerned about pageantry. Even on this, the day of his father’s funeral, his first concern was likely to be the appearance of things, and it was custom for the new ruler to walk alone up the hill outside the city to the Cavendish tomb. Reynold’s attention to detail was a good reason for him to be king, and never Tris.
Surprising him, Reynold nodded. “Yes. I would speak to you about the training of the guard. You practice with them. I want your opinions on their skill.”
“You’ve cultivated the finest personal guard known to Llangard, Your Highness.” The answer required no thought. Reynold’s methods for training and culling the guard were extreme, but none could doubt that the result was the most skilled fighters in the land.
Reynold waved dismissively. “Things are different now. I need my most faithful men at my back, and you know them better than anyone. We should speak on each of them.”
There was nothing Tristram could say to that, so he inclined his head and shoulders in acquiescence.
He did know the guard well. Since he’d arrived at the palace more than a decade before, he had trained with them almost every day. He didn’t know how things were different now, but it was clear Reynold wasn’t interested in discussing it, and one never tried to press for answers with Reynold. At best, it would result in the prince being unhappy. Worst didn’t bear contemplation.
Reynold was destined for greatness. He was intense and charismatic and drew people to him like moths to a flame. But no one who knew him would have called him a kind man.
The walk from the Spires to the Cavendish tomb was not long, though most of the realm’s peers would have taken carriages. The court would be there already, seated, awaiting their new king to bid farewell to the last.
It was a quiet day in the kingdom. Overcast, as Tris always thought sad days ought to be, but more than that, the usual bustle of the capital was hushed and still. Reynold’s guards trailed after him once they left the palace grounds. The market was closed, the smithies cold, and when they arrived, the funeral was filled with silent people wearing their very best clothes.
Reynold had declared it a day of rest for everyone in the kingdom, and the people were out in force, showing their love for the man who had led them in prosperity for nearly five decades.
They walked among the people side by side to the magnificent family mausoleum. It had been built by Reynold’s ancestors when Llangard was young and magic was plentiful. The Cavendish line had always been particularly impressive with stone magic, and the sloping arches of the building were a testament to their artistry, seeming to slide up out of the ground as though they had naturally formed that way.
They walked together to the head of the crowd, where the most important lords were waiting, including Tristram’s own mother, sitting with Reynold’s son, Roland.
Reynold paused there, straightening his spine and lifting his head, then reaching out to squeeze Tristram’s shoulder. He nodded, Tristram gave a small bow, and they parted ways, leaving Tris to go sit with his mother and Roland, and Reynold to do his duty.
Tristram took the empty chair next to Roland and tried to give the boy a hopeful smile. The princeling was always a clever, thoughtful, well-behaved child, but on this day, he was especially quiet. He had seen more death than any nine-year-old should, between his mother and his grandfather. Generally, Reynold would have had the boy at his own side, but things would be different now.
Reynold was king.
The prince reached out and took one of Tristram’s hands in his, then Tristram’s mother’s, but he didn’t say anything. She met his gaze over the prince’s head, and he saw his own concern mirrored there. The boy needed more support than ever before, and his father was no longer in a position to offer it.
Reynold had begun to speak of remarrying. He’d been widowed for three years, and now that he was king, the fact that he had a single son was of some concern to the people of Llangard. Remarrying was the sensible thing to do, but Tristram couldn’t help thinking that would leave Roland more often on his own.
No second wife would be interested in spending her time coddling the child who wasn’t hers, but who would one day become king.
“He was sad,” the prince whispered, barely audible even in the silence. “He didn’t want to go.”
“We never want to leave the ones we love,” Tristram’s mother told Roland.
Tristram wasn’t sure that was true. His father—or rather, his mother’s husband—had been a miserable ass who’d seemed all too happy to shuffle off the mortal coil and leave everyone behind. Little wonder Tristram had been the product of an affair, really. The only actual wonder was how his mother had forced herself to care for such a man at all. Even dealing with the shock that he was the product of an affair, Tristram had never held her infidelity against her.
He’d have sought comfort in the arms of another man too, in her position.
The prince—no, the king, he must remember that—King Reynold’s sister, Princess Gillian, drifted up to sit on Tristram’s other side. She looked as though she hadn’t slept in days, and given how she’d spent her father’s final days at his side, Tris didn’t doubt it.
“I don’t know where to be,” she said, her voice lost and a little frightened. “I always sit next to Reynold.”
Tristram glanced across the aisle to where King Edmund’s brother, Prince Laurence, sat with his wife and son. There was space with their family, but if the princess stood before him, they weren’t company she wanted.
With his free hand, Tris reached to take one of Gillian’s. “Then you should stay with us, Your Highness.”
She offered a weak smile, but her hand squeezed his with strength he hadn’t realized she possessed.
Reynold stepped up in front of the crowd, head high and shoulders straight, the very image of a powerful king. The way he scanned the crowd, pausing now and then, made every person there think he was looking at them, thinking of them. He bestowed a soft look on Roland, and the boy leaned against Tris.
Finally, Reynold gave a sad smile and bowed his head to look at his father’s casket. When he spoke, his voice was commanding, but quiet enough to show the people that he was hurting with the loss of his father, just as they were. “I thank you all for coming to see my father off on his final journey. He would have been deeply honored by your presence.”
He spoke to the crowd about principles and duty, and how his father had been the very essence of both—how he only hoped he could fulfill the promise that lifetime of service had made. He’d always been excellent with words, and the speech would have made King Edmund proud.
Admittedly, Reynold had thought his father old and unwise, but at least he did him honor in this.
As the honor guard, led by Prince Laurence, carried the litter with King Edmund’s casket into the royal mausoleum, to be entombed there next to his queens and across from his own long-dead parents, Tristram wondered if he’d be doing this again in forty years.
Likely not, despite the fact that he would be that long-lived. Once everyone realized he was a half dragon, he’d likely be run out of the country, forced to live with dragons he’d never met.
Well, if they would have him.
He only hoped his mother didn’t live long enough to have to deal with it. He didn’t want her punished for seeking out a tiny bit of comfort in her lonely youth.
The procession moved into the mausoleum, and he dropped his head to say a quick prayer to the gods for another year of peace. It was what their people needed, what Reynold needed, in the first year of the reign of a new king.