Red-tail Dragon Excerpt from Keeping Merminia

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I’m getting really excited about some of the recent changes to Keeping Merminia. I think the draft is finally coming together. I can’t wait to share the whole book with you guys!

Here’s Excerpt #2 from my draft.

It’s a scene in another chapter from Ulric’s point of view. (One of these days, I’ll post an excerpt from Selinne’s view point.) Note: This particular scene is one of my favorites. 

 

I can’t sleep. The dragons don’t sleep either. A screech rings out. It’s more of a caw than a bellow. They keep squawking outside like scavenging birds picking at dry bones. The nervous energy of my clan aggravates them. Every breathing thing in Dencur is waiting for what the witch said is coming. When I see Zara’s side of the bed is empty, I figure she must be sitting with them. I’d like to say I feel guilty about killing the Red-tail. I don’t. They are nasty pests. But I’d give anything to take back the way she looked at me when I dropped the dragon.


I glance out the window. The dragons huddle together, blowing gusts of smoke. Their spikes lay flat. The Red-tails are giving up. They’re hardly majestic beasts anymore. She’s not with them, which surprises me. I make out her white nightgown. She’s a ball on the sand, letting the icy waves claw at her feet. I tug my shirt over my head, wrenching my arms into the sleeves. I twist the ring in my hand. It’s a stupid idea. By morning I’m sure I’ll wish I hadn’t decided on it. But I despise watching her sit in the dark out there—as if her soul was carved out of her.

I pump my fist as I walk down the stairs and into the courtyard. The air slaps me like a clammy fish. I don’t make a sound crossing the beach. She stands up and turns around anyway. The wet linen clings to her thighs. Her hair is plastered to her chest. Her arms are caked in sand. I’m curious how she manages to look beautiful when she’s such a mess. I pull the ring from my pocket. It warms as I clench it.

“Did I wake you?” she asks, her mouth turned down.

I’ve never known how to ease into any conversation. So I blurt it out. “Would it help if I told them to go?”

She threads her fingers into mine. “I want you to understand why I love them.”

I follow her. I’m guessing she wants me to pet the daft things. They recognize her scent and lift their heads. One of the dragons wags its tail. I’m sure she finds it cute, but the beast is also slobbering and snorting smoke. The fattest one knocks the bucket into the straw with his nose.

“No baths tonight,” she says, patting his front leg. He rolls over. He looks ridiculous, but I don’t say so. She sets my hand on his stomach. A chalky film covers his belly. The orange sheen of his skin is crusted over. His scales from his neck down resemble rusted metal—not healthy dragon skin. She runs her hand over his snout. Smoke purrs from the front of his mouth.

I stuff my hands back in my pockets. “I won’t pretend that I know why you like them. Do you not remember how much pain you were in after you were attacked? Because I do. It almost killed you.”

She exhales. Her cheeks tighten. I know I’ve said the wrong thing, but I can’t help it.

“That was such a long time ago, Ulric.” She rubs his spikes until they bristle upward. “You know why I stopped seeing them as monsters? I realized they only fight because it’s what they know. They do it because they’re scared. Red-tails don’t trust easily. They’re used to being on guard…like you.”

That’s when I start to think she’s really lost her mind. I’m the same as a reptile with rocks for brains? It doesn’t seem like much of a compliment. “I’m nothing like,” I sputter. “I won’t bother to finish saying it.” The red rises up my neck.

“But you are,” she says, her fingertips feathering my face. “Everyone is terrified of you. You anger at the silliest of insults. But when you feel safe, your eyes soften. When you put your hands on my waist, I forget those same hands could crush the life out of me. You think I don’t know the horrific things you’ve done on the battlefield?”

I don’t react. What does she expect me to tell her? That I’ve killed more mermen than I can count? That yes, I’ve thrust my knife into flesh without blinking? The thought of losing—of surrendering—makes me grind my teeth.

She lowers my face to hers. “One day, they’ll say you were as cruel as Merconius. But you don’t conquer and fight like him. You isolate yourself from me when you return from war. As if you don’t trust yourself near me. I dismiss your restless ways, because I know that when you set your trident down you become Ulric again. I forgive the blood on your hands, because I know why you do it. You’re no different than a Red-tail guarding its young. Everything you do is to protect us—to protect me. I just wish you’d see that it doesn’t always have to be a fight. You don’t have to always be poised to attack.”

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