In Tallenmere, fate has a way of catching up with you . . .
Somewhere, hidden in the waters of the Southern Sea, lies an island unlike any other. Within the amber glow of its pyrogem-laden cliffs, legend says the very heart of the dragon god Drae keeps the island, and its occupants, alive.
Loralee Munroviel, daughter of Leogard’s High Priestess Arianne, had no idea what she would face when she arrived by boat ten years ago and was left alone in exile. All she knew about Draekoria’s inhabitants was written in one tattered notebook. Now, her life revolves around keeping Drae’s descendants happy. Never in her life did she imagine being a Dragon Keeper.
Captain Igrorio Everlyn, known as Sir Robert to his unit of Holy Paladins, has faced his share of hell, battling the evils of Emperor Sarvonn’s tyranny and the dark god Tyr’s abominations. But none of that compares to the ten years of hell he’s been without Loralee, presumed dead.
One freak storm changes everything. Now the two of them must fight to reestablish the delicate balance of the island before the dragons take things into their own hands. Through it all, they discover the secrets that kept them, and their hearts, exiled for a decade.
Excerpt #1 From Chapter Three:
After a shipwreck, Sir Robert wakes up in a strange cottage, only to find Loralee, the love of his life, whom he thought had been dead for a decade…
“I don’t understand. What is this place?”
“It’s an island. Very few know of its existence.”
I shook my head, trying to clear the fog of this confusing dream come to life. “But, why would you be here, and why would you be sorry? Unless…”
The words wouldn’t come. My racing mind pitched in to help. Unless she didn’t want to marry me after all.
Wrenching pain I’d kept tucked inside broke free, and I clambered to my feet. Loralee followed suit, backing herself into the small dining table.
I tried, but could not hide the bitter anger in my words. “How could you do this to me? Do you have any idea what I’ve been through?”
Her eyes widened. She clutched the table with one hand and her robe with the other. “What you’ve been through? I didn’t want this. I was forced here.”
“What do you mean, forced here? Where are your shackles?” My voice roared through the little cottage as I gestured around me with one arm. “Where are the bars? This looks like no prison I’ve ever seen.”
Her voice cracked the air, rivaling with my own. “I was betrayed, forced into exile. Don’t you understand? I never wanted to leave you. I never wanted anything so much as I wanted you.”
Pacing away, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had to calm myself, to let the weight of this discovery, the improbability of her explanation to sink into my water-logged brain.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at her just yet, so I stared at my bare feet instead. “Why didn’t you tell me, write to me?”
“I tried. I begged the supply ship crew to bring my letters to you. They always took them, but never brought one in return. I suspect they destroyed them, but I had no way of knowing.” She sucked in a shaky breath as though trying to hold back her tears. “I never stopped loving you.”
Turning back to face her, I felt like a mindless beast. Here I was, raging against the love of my life when she’d all but been brought back from the dead.
“Loralee.” I eased toward her. She cringed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Without a word, I leaned in and pressed my forehead to hers, allowing myself to breathe in her scent for the first time in a decade. We stood suspended like that for a while, lost in time, and emerging from a purgatory neither of us had imagined ten years ago. I would have been content to stand like that forever, but Loralee burst into tears and wilted to the floor.
I followed her down and opened the quilt to wrap us both inside. I held her tight while she cried.
While I cried.
I finally got enough breath to speak again. “What did you mean by forced here? They told me you were . . .” I couldn’t say it, not with her warm and so very alive against me.
The weight of it all came crashing down on me. “This is my fault, isn’t it? You’re here because of me.”
She made no attempt to wipe her cheeks, but shook her head and stared at the rafters as though entreating the gods. “No, it’s not your fault. Not at all. There is so much to explain, I don’t know where to start.”
I couldn’t comprehend any of it, so I focused on the here and now. “You found me on the shore?”
“The crew, Francis . . . did you find anyone else out there?”
“No, I had Xax-, I mean, no, I searched but didn’t find anyone else.”
The familiar weight of grief squeezed my chest, and a few more tears escaped before I could stop them.
She pulled me close and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I know how much you loved him. We all did.”
“We all grieved for you. You’ve been here . . . all this time?”
“By the gods, Loralee, I’ve missed you so much.” I put my wet cheek against hers and pressed my lips to her soft skin. “Part of me died the day I thought you… please…just tell me how you ended up here.”
Loralee took a few deep breaths and finally pulled away from me. She caressed my cheek and smiled weakly. “I’ll make us a pot of tea. And then, I think we should start at the beginning, back to the Great Plague and when we first met. Do you remember that?”
Smiling past the sadness, I covered her hand with mine and closed my eyes. “How could I ever forget?”
Excerpt #2 from Chapter Seven:
Loralee, as daughter of the High Priestess, is tasked with helping young Igrorio (Sir Robert) heal from his near-death experience during the Plague. She’s got a tough job ahead of her…
A girl’s voice startled me from sleep. “Do you like dragons?”
My eyelids felt like they’d been weighed down with rocks. I brought my arm up to rub them, but even it felt strange and unused, like I had been poured into a new body. Finally, I cracked one eye open, then the other, and realized I had no idea where I was.
A blurry face framed with an over-abundance of red hair leaned over me. “I said, do you like dragons?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered. My voice sounded as dull and scratchy as a rusty old knife. “I’ve never thought much about them.”
“Hmm, well, since you’ll be here for a while, I thought you may want some books to peruse. Or do you like to paint or draw? I can get supplies-”
“Who are you?”
“Oh, how incredibly rude of me. I must apologize. I am Loralee. Loralee Munroviel.”
“The Priestess’s daughter?”
“That’s right. And you are?”
I blinked and got a better look at her exaggerated features. Her teeth were too big, the points of her ears nearly reached the top of her head, freckles dotted her round cheeks, and her eyes were like two giant green marbles. Even her smile whisked across her face like someone had painted it on in a hurry.
I scanned the room. It was fairly small with no windows, but squares of opaque glass in the ceiling let in filtered light. Green ivy clung to the bare wooden beams between the plastered walls, growing upward, where it wrapped around the rafters on the ceiling. It didn’t reach the glass, so someone must have kept it cleared away.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You’re in the Temple, in a recovery room. Once you’ve built up your strength with some Blessed Water, nourishing food, and plenty of rest, you can-”
She bit her lip and stared down at the book on her lap.
“Go home?” I finished for her. A tight lump formed in my throat.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to-”
I flipped over to my other side and focused on the glossy, tri-pointed leaves beside my bed. Everything came back. Mama on the barge, Papa’s suicide, our home burning to ashes around me, and the girl who brought me back from the brink of death. I should have been grateful, that much I knew. But what did I have left? Everything beyond the here and now was too uncertain, too overwhelming. I should have died in that inferno.
“Leave me alone,” I whispered.
She said nothing, but her chair scraped against the stone floor. A moment later, the door clicked behind her, and I let my tears fall.
Excerpt #3 from Chapter Thirty-Six:
Loralee and Sir Robert, reunited again at last, take a tour of the island . . . on the back of a dragon!
Wrapping both arms around Loralee’s body, I dared a look down. White-crested waves rolled across the sea below. Gulls soared over the water, and sunlight glinted off the shiny, black feathers on their backs. Loralee held to the spike in front of her and pointed out a pod of dolphins. They leapt, one after the other, in graceful arcs, chasing a school of fish swimming just beneath the surface.
Here in the sky, flying like I had only dreamed until then, a strange serenity embraced me—all my fears subsided under weightless freedom. We were putting our lives in another’s hands, but for once, I didn’t fight it . . . I just let it be.
“Amazing,” I whispered.
“I said it’s amazing!”
She craned her head around and gave me a quick kiss. “You haven’t seen anything yet!”
Xaxony tilted right. I squeezed Loralee and the spike behind me again until our flying mount leveled out. But, then she flew straight toward the cliff. Suddenly, the dragon lifted upward, and Loralee’s weight shifted onto my chest. My back pressed against the spike, and I clenched my eyes shut again.
Soon as she leveled out once more, I opened my eyes and looked down. We’d cleared the cliff. A sea of green filled the space below us in the form of a great jungle. In the distance all around us, I could see the rust-red walls of the rock cliffs. The inner habitat of the island was contained within.
Xaxony veered left. After a while, the jungle below opened up to a meadow dominated by tall, dry grasses and twisted penuke trees. Wild snippets swung and hopped from branch to branch, chattering in high-pitched squeaks. A few long dragon necks of scarlet, gray, and indigo rose above the branches and followed our trajectory over the canopy.
Xaxony circled right, a quarter mile or so from the southern cliff, and flew to where the meadow ended at the edge of a lake. Below the water’s surface, a dragon’s dark outline made languid, serpentine waves as it swam.
Excerpt #4 from Chapter Thirty-Two:
Sir Robert returns from a campaign to be confronted with his utmost fear:
I made it across the pavilion where she’d brought me from the brink of death, not once, but twice, and where she’d taken control of the keys to my heart. Into the foyer, and up the stairs, where I had ventured to find her room so long ago.
Every step up brought on a memory—our childhood quest, candy-coated smiles, her bright green eyes that could change from happy to furious in a split second, the smell of her hair, and the silk of her skin. It took all the will I had to top the summit of the last stair and head down the hall to Gryffon Munroviel’s private chambers.
A guard wordlessly opened the door as I approached. Gryffon sat slumped in a chair by a hearth. He remained motionless, even when I finally got enough courage to drag my feet forward and stand by the chair opposite him.
“She’s gone,” he whispered. “My little girl’s gone.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but salty tears slipped past my lips. Steadying myself on the back of the chair with one hand, I pressed my other fist to my mouth. If I gave into the grief, it made it real.
It made her gone.
Gryffon continued to stare into the fire. He wore a wrinkled, stained tunic and trousers, and his bare feet splayed out before him on the rug. “I wasn’t here. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
He bent over and sobbed. Grief broke free and knocked me to my knees. Only the rug buffered my fall. My palms stung as I landed on all fours.
“They burned her body,” I cried. “They burned her goddamn body!”
I crumpled to the rug, with my fists holding my head off the floor. A keening wail tore through my gut, piercing the air and slicing through every dream I had. All I had left was this hot flood of tears, this crushing weight in my chest. I’d faced things most people see only in their nightmares, but they were no match for this monster called grief.
And its greatest punishment was that it didn’t let me die right then and there.
Excerpt #5 from Chapter Thirty:
Loralee gathers the courage to take a huge risk and follow her heart:
Taking several deep breaths, I went to his room and rapped lightly on the door.
No one answered.
I turned the knob. The door clicked softly open.
Letting out my breath in a quiet whoosh, I stepped inside and shut the door behind me. I stood with my back against the cool, varnished oak until my eyes adjusted to the dark. A thin sliver of moonlight cut through the partition in the drapes over the headboard of a large bed. Under its silver shine, a mound lay under the covers. Rhythmic, deep breaths came from it.
Carefully, I locked the door and eased toward him. I crept closer and bent to get a better look. He was lying on his back, with one arm flung over his eyes. His mouth hung open slightly.
That muscular shoulder, arm, and chest beckoned me to touch, but a sudden nervousness made me tremble. The purity symbol buzzed gently on my forehead, reminding me how much of a coward I really was.
So, I stood there, chewing on my fingernail, and wished for a dose of courage. Igrorio stirred. His arm fell away from his face and dangled off the bed. Finger still in my mouth, I froze.
Eyes fluttering open, Igrorio’s groggy voice washed away some of my fears. “Loralee? Is that you?”
I nodded, but realized he couldn’t see me.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“What are you—”
Before my nervous jitters rooted me to the floor, I rushed to his side, leaned in, and kissed him. Muffled words of surprise tickled my lips. He raised himself on his elbows and sighed deeply as he brought his arms around me.
I pulled back long enough to say, “I love you. Marry me.”
He froze. “But—”
“No buts. I’ve made my move. It’s your turn now.”
“Your symbols, though—that middle one is aglow already.” He smiled apologetically. “If I don’t marry you properly, then how could you stand the discomfort?”
“Someone very wise told me to follow my heart. My heart says that as long as we have a ceremony before the goddess herself, then we are married in Her sight.”
Truth be known, I had no idea if it would work. I doubted it, considering who I was and who he was. But, I prayed with all my heart that Innessa would understand and give us Her blessing anyway.
He pulled me close and smiled against my cheek. “It’s not exactly the ceremony you deserve, but we can adopt the Hezrali people’s simple wedding tradition. The setting consists of nothing more than a moonlit night.”
He leaned back, reached above his head, and yanked one curtain panel to the side, then the other. Bright moonlight illuminated the excitement on his face. “They take each other’s hands.”
I grabbed both of his in mine, kissing his rugged knuckles. He smiled even brighter than our nocturnal wedding light. “Then, they say, ‘By the light of the moon, and a cool kiss of dew, I take you as mine, to start life anew.’”
Goddess, please let it work. I love him so much.
Staring into his eyes, I repeated the words, and he did too, his deep voice mingling with mine.
Eyes sparkling, he stroked my cheek, and then gently touched my forehead. He smiled the warmest, most loving smile I’d ever seen. “Would you look at that? It’s dimming.”
I reached up to touch my purity symbol as well. The sting lessened with every passing second. Happy tears rolled down my cheeks.
“We’re married,” he whispered, kissing the tears from my face. “At least in Innessa’s sight.” He chuckled. “Maybe Omri helped a little too.”
I laughed, and it felt like the weight of the world slipped away into oblivion.
He sighed. “I do wish I could take you on a proper honeymoon.”
“You will. But first . . . ” I slid off the bed and dropped my cloak.
He rolled onto his side, propping himself up on one arm.
I lifted my robe over my head. The room’s chilly air kissed my bare skin, along with a blast of self-consciousness. I shivered and stared at the floor, draping my arms across my breasts and hips. What if he didn’t like what he saw? I’d never thought of myself as pretty. I was neither muscular nor plump, and certainly not as well-gifted in assets as the Angels of Mercy.
“Loralee,” he whispered, “look at me.”
Reluctantly, I lifted my gaze to his.
“Can’t you see how beautiful you are?”
His voice held all the warmth of a blazing hearth. And there it was, shining in his eyes—the beauty of his love for me. So much more than lust. It ran soul-deep. The kind of unconditional love I’d always dreamed of, but never thought I’d have.
Excerpt #6 from Chapter One:
Loralee, having just arrived on the island of Draekoria, meets a couple of its inhabitants…
The dark form lowered itself directly in front of the doorway. One dull green reptilian eye stared into the cottage from the side of a dragon’s head.
Puddle squealed and darted under the bed.
Smoke drifted upward in swirling tendrils from the creature’s nostrils. Dull gray scales covered its head, and what I could see of its neck. Besides some short, blunt horns and spikes lining its wide jaw, the dragon’s head was smooth and lizard-like. The creature’s shoulders were even with the cottage’s roof. At least it couldn’t fit through the door.
Then, it spoke.
The rumbling voice reverberated in my chest. “You, mortal. Make yourself known. Step forward so I can see you.”
I gnawed on an already worn-down fingernail and wondered why the creature would make such a request. I stood no more than ten feet from it. Either it had a vision problem or it intended to eat me. At the taste of blood on my tongue, I forced myself to stop chewing on my raw fingertip and tucked both hands behind my back.
Trembling like a frightened snippet, I whispered, “I’m here.”
“Speak up, mortal, or face my wrath!”
“I’m Loralee, your new Keeper.” I took one wobbly step forward, waving my hands helplessly in what I hoped would be interpreted as a surrendering gesture.
The dragon’s horns and jaw spikes extended in one sudden burst. The journal never mentioned that aspect of dragon anatomy. My legs couldn’t hold me upright anymore. I fell to my knees, shaking so hard my teeth chattered.
“Who sent you?” the dragon thundered. “Who are your kin?”
The wisdom symbol on my forehead tingled—a timely reminder to watch my tongue. It would not be wise to explain how I had been forcibly sent here, not until I knew how to handle myself around these creatures.
Hugging myself tightly, I forced part of the truth past my clacking teeth, hoping it would suffice. “I am the eldest daughter of Priestess Arianne. I’m a high elf, as she and King Leopold are.”
“Daughter of the Priestess? Do you think me but a dragonling, ignorant of the deceitful ways of elven-kind?” He craned his head this way and that, as though trying to focus through his cloudy eye.
“N-not at all, kind dragon.” Goddess, that sounded pathetic. “I am here to care for you, not to do you harm.” I bowed my head to show my reverence, knowing any minute I could be reduced to ashes. The journal didn’t mention how to introduce myself to my charges, either. Another bit of information that would have proven useful before I became a snack.
“Who is with you?”
“No one but a harmless snippet.” Glancing toward the bed, only Puddle’s yellow eyes were visible, wide and startled, as I’d ever seen them.
Another voice spoke from behind the gray dragon. Still as rumbling, but not as deep and more airy, like a bellows over a blacksmith’s fire. Female, perhaps? “Back away, Kershar! Let me get a look.” An olive-green dragon’s head nudged Kershar’s to one side and turned sideways to inspect me with a pale yellow eye. “You’ve frightened her to near death. Have I not told you to remain cave-bound while you go through the shedding?”
Shedding? I dared a look at Kershar, finally realizing why his eye, and to a lesser extent, his scales, were so dull. My sister Prysilla had raised a virtual zoo of pets over the years. Every reptile and amphibian replaced their skin on a regular basis. Like those, Kershar must have been molting. The edges of the shedding eye scale had already separated from the new tissue beneath.
The olive-green dragon spoke again. “Come closer, child. My mate will not harm you. He is all smoke and no fire, and he is as mortal as you are.”
Kershar butted the other dragon’s head. “What did you say to her?”
“Never mind, Kershar.” She butted him back. “Child, you are safe with us. A dragon’s promise is as firm as this rock upon which we stand.”
Having no choice, but feeling a little more comfortable in this creature’s presence, I pushed myself to my feet and swallowed in a futile attempt to wet my dry-as-cotton mouth. I stepped forward until I was so close the dragon’s warm breath ruffled my acolyte robe.
“They’ve sent another Keeper, I see. I am Xaxony, matriarch of the clan. You’ve met Kershar, my mate.” Xaxony flicked a red, forked tongue and smiled.
Dragons can smile? Who knew? “I’m Loralee. Loralee Munroviel.”
“The Priestess’s daughter?” Xaxony puffed a cloud of smoke from her nostrils.
Kershar rumbled again. “The mortal is deceiving us. She cannot be a Keeper.”
“She smells like a Keeper to me. Where is your mark, child?”
Mark? What mark . . . oh!
I turned my back to Xaxony and parted the hair at the nape of my neck, hoping at least some of the dark birthmark was visible on my scalp.
After a pause that lasted too long for comfort, Xaxony said, “She is genuine. We should leave her in peace until she is settled. Come to the caves when you are ready, child, and I will show you the island.”
Excerpt #7 from Chapter Five
The Great Plague has swept through Leogard, taking thousands, including young Sir Robert’s (Igrorio’s) mother. His father is succumbing to madness and it reaches its peak on one horrific night . . .
“Did I tell you that you’re adopted?”
I almost dropped the bread I’d just taken from the oven. I set it on the table and stared at him. Worry made me shiver. His despondency was bad enough, but I didn’t think I could handle madness.
What the hell do I say? I decided to ignore his question and turn his attention to our supper again, though I sounded less than sincere. “I’ve made soup. I’ll get you a bowl.”
“You’re of Vaelorian blood, Igrorio.”
My eyebrows arched. Fine, I’ll play along. Maybe it would break him out of his shell, no matter how ridiculous his claims. “So, I’m royalty, am I?”
“No. Only the result of a lowly cousin who couldn’t keep his hands off the ladies.”
“The fact that I am a male version of my mother would call your claim into question.”
“I didn’t say we adopted you. Your mother was striking, irresistible, and I didn’t have the heart to leave her.”
Fatigued from the day’s work, I heaved a long sigh. My mother, to my eyes, had been completely devoted to him. To a nauseating extent, even. She would never have betrayed him with someone else.
Obviously, going along with him wasn’t working, and I still had to convince him to eat. “I’ll get you some soup.”
His chair scraped the floor as I fetched a bowl and ladled a belly-filling amount into it. The aroma of chicken and dried herbs made my mouth water. Now for the curweed. I kept a tin of it under a loose hearth stone. Its reputation as a poison made it illegal, and it took me a while to find a dealer, but just a pinch lulled Papa to sleep for a full night. I’d started using it when he started waking up with nightmares, screaming his head off and scaring me half to death.
“What about your scar, Igrorio?” He stood, went to the cupboard, and started opening drawers.
“What about it?” Instinctively, I glanced at the pink amorphous patch of skin at my elbow’s bend.
He paused over an open drawer. I set the bowl of soup on the floor and stood. A thin-lipped grin spread across his face. But, it wasn’t my father. This man was menacing and enjoyed inflicting pain on others. I couldn’t look him in the eye anymore, so I focused on my arm again.
“You were born with an ugly birthmark,” he said, gesturing to me. “Right there on your arm. Every time I saw it, I thought about your mother’s legs wrapped around another man.”
“Stop it!” I wanted to hit him so badly, I clenched my fists until they hurt.
He just laughed. “You know what I did? I burned it off. With a red-hot poker. Your mother begged and pleaded, but I told her I had to get rid of it if I was to ever accept you as my son. Either that or leave—her choice. Oh, how you screamed.”
Damn him. I dropped to a squat and took a pinch of curweed from the tin. Crushing the dried leaves between my fingers, I sprinkled them on the soup and got more. The sharp, pungent odor burned my nostrils, but I didn’t care. I’d overdose him, make him sleep a whole day, maybe a week. Maybe he wouldn’t wake up at all, but what use was he in this state?
Soon as that thought took hold, I grabbed the ladle and scooped off the top layer of soup in his bowl, making sure to get most of the curweed. I couldn’t just give up on him. Mama wouldn’t. He’d be fine once the grief ran its course. Then we could carve out some sort of normal life.
He shuffled behind me as I started to stand up again.
“Come to think of it,” he whispered, “I should have smothered you the moment you were born.”
Something flashed in front of my face. His arm made a quick swipe under my chin. I dropped the soup. The bowl shattered, and a wasted meal splattered across the floor along with something red. My throat stung. I lifted my hands to my neck.
My fingers found separated flesh—my flesh—filleted like a fish.
Mysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale was published in January, 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. The highly anticipated third book, Hearts in Exile, has already received some great reviews. The Tallenmere series has been likened to Terry Goodkind’s ‘Sword of Truth’ series, but is probably closer to a spicy cross between Tolkien and Mercedes Lackey.
Mysti’s other writings have appeared in the anthologies Hearts of Tomorrow, Christmas Lites, and Christmas Lites II. Her flash fiction has appeared on the online magazine EveryDayFiction. She has also served as a class mentor in Writers Village University’s six week free course, F2K.
Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specfic publication, and is the proud owner of Unwritten, a blog voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.
Contact the Author:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mysti-Parker/103786449704221
The Tallenmere series is available at http://www.melange-books.com, Amazon, B&N, and many other online bookstores.