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Blayre

Change whispered the briny sea breeze. It caressed Blayre's face, the humid air weaving in her hair pulling and pushing at the dark tendrils that swarmed around her face making her look like some wrathful deity of storms.

To the naked eye, it was a large cat that sat at the young woman's feet. To Blayre's eye – impermeable to magic – it was a small dragonling. Its scaled tail resembling blue glass pebbles, was wrapped gently around Blayre's boot-clad calves. Its long and narrow head nuzzled up against her thigh, vibrant sky-blue against the dirty beige of her breeches.

Azure was a gorgeous specimen – and many others would have thought so if they'd been given the opportunity. Blayre and Caval were not taking any chances with exposure. But Azure was growing weak as the days passed. Blayre had no notion of how to care for a dragonling, but she was sure that raising one at sea did not account for the most ideal of dragon-rearing conditions.

The dragonling's color remained bright, but the shine of her scales had certainly dimmed over the time that they'd been aboard ship. And the cat disguise was not working in Blayre's favor for getting enough fish to feed the growing little monster.

Sweat dripped down the side of Blayre's face. She was not dressed for this climate. At first the weather had been tolerably warm. The sea breeze had been pleasant even. Now, it was overbearingly sticky, the air as thick as cream soup.

They had not purchased a wardrobe for the trip – only the necessities, for they had tried to accumulate as few witnesses as possible in Port Roubeles. With the trading season in full swing, it had not been difficult to blend into a crowd and eventually board a ship that was returning to a port on the independent southern island city of Solpor - not Caval's home island but one that he assured her would be more useful to them.

"Solpor holds one of the greatest universities in the world. It is a hub for academic pursuits of all kinds. Historians, researchers, and mages flock there to learn and to pass on their legacies to new learners. And since they are independent of the other islands and other continents, they don't have the restrictions that others have." Caval had said, and Blayre had seen the scholarly mage's eyes go almost trancelike when he spoke of the place.

"You've been there?" She had asked him.

"The Emarian Crown sent me to study there for a year after my time at the Emarian Academy. Solpor has the best university in the known world."

Azure trilled at Blayre's feet, bringing her back to the the intensely humid present. Blayre glanced down at the dragonling, and then followed her gaze to where Caval approached them from behind. He crouched to bring himself to Azure's level, patting the dragonling on her head, his hands an earthy brown against her iridescent blue scales. She tolerated his touch for a moment but then snaked her head around to where he had four fish tied to the belt at his waist.

Not his usual accoutrements.

"Little fiend," He grinned, tossing Azure the fish, "Not that I want these attached to me for longer than necessary anyway." He wrinkled his nose. Then his gaze found Blayre's, and he looked up at her with eyes of deepest brown.

Sometimes, she felt lightheaded at the mere sight of Caval, and this was one of those times. Neither of them had anticipated this as the outcome of their haphazard journey across Emares. Blayre had been looking for an answer to her questions. And her original goal had been much different. She hadn't expected to find a dragon egg, much less hatch a dragonling out of it.

But he had accepted her decision to take this on and had acted to secure their passage to the islands, without hesitation. Those actions would do more to win over her heart than any material gift of gleaming jewels, or pretty clothes ever could.

Not that she was ready to tell him that. She didn't know when she would be ready. If she would be ready. Her heart clenched, as she looked down at him. This man who was so much more than a mage. He was empathetic, intuitive, and the most steadying presence for her in a literal ocean of life changes.

When the dragonling was fed to some level of contentedness, Caval straightened to his full height, his eyes meeting Blayre's squarely. She looked away.

"What's on your mind, Blayre?" Caval asked.

He was always direct with her. When they had first met, back in the Dragon Room in Emares City, she had found his bluntness off-putting. Now she appreciated it for what it was. There was little room for the chafing buildup of anger or resentment, when one was forthright as Caval was. It was like he knew her better than she knew herself sometimes. Which was why she couldn't meet his eyes at this particular moment.

She couldn't lie to him. Caval's extreme perceptiveness made lying to him ineffectual. As always, she'd have to come up with a half-truth without sharing the true nature of her thoughts. Even though he likely already knew those thoughts.

Blayre turned over the words in her head before she spoke them. Azure stretched to nudge Blayre's hand as if in encouragement. The steady warmth from the dragonling would have been more welcome up in the mountains, but it still felt reassuring all the same. "I was just thinking about – with all the uncertainty. How helpful and steadfast you've been. We wouldn't be here, on this ship, without you."

Caval's eyes – angled like a cat's over high cheekbones, narrowed, but his mouth twitched up at the side. "I wouldn't thank me just yet, if I were you. For all we know we could be ambushed as soon as we disembark the ship."

Blayre blew out a long breath, looking out over the sea, "I feel like they would have sent ships after us by now if they knew where we'd gone."

The unspoken words between them settled heavily. Not only did Blayre have a valuable dragon in her possession, but she was valuable to the Emarian royal family in more ways than just her ability to sense magic.

Duke Rorrick de Virhea, current heir to the Emarian throne, had still had a certain level of interest in her when she'd disappeared. And it was the continued pang of emotion she still felt every time she thought of the handsome Rory, that was partially responsible for her keeping Caval at arm's length. Her feelings for Rory were conflicting at best – Blayre knew they weren't right for each other. And she was no longer certain that she even had any level of romantic interest in him, removed as she was from the situation. But she hadn't been able to tell him that. And his friendship still meant something to her.

The silhouette of a gull appeared in the sky above them, black against the onset of a pink sunset, and its cry was a welcome signal that they were near enough to land for a bird to have made it this far out on the water.

"Oh, thank the stars," Blayre breathed. Azure chirped in response. "We're almost there, little one." Blayre said, scratching the dragonling's head fondly.

Caval's familiar presence, lingering just behind her, though not quite touching, was a welcome one as she embarked on this journey. A journey that had begun when she'd deviated from the path of certainty and safety. 

A/N: After the long wait, chapter 1 of DRAGON MARKED is HERE. Thank you all for your incredible patience as I finished graduate school and did other life things (bought a house), got a promotion at my day job, etc. I am finally back in a place mentally where I am able to write consistently and I hope to post at least once per week! Perhaps more if I can manage it! May the words keep flowing. 

Also, I hope that this initial chapter has provided enough of a review of where we left off. I know how frustrating it is to wait a year between books and then to be like "wait... what happened?" 

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