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Even in my true form, it took too long to gently carry Ansel back to my home. His breathing was shallow and reedy by the time I landed. But here, surrounded by my hoard, my magic was strongest.
And I refused to let the knight die tonight.
Even so, it took hours to stabilize him, and I was wan and weary by the time I was done. And I still needed to retrieve my books and Percy.
How I was going to manage to coax the horse within reach remained to be seen.
The books were easiest, so I retrieved them first. The cart was specifically designed to be carried by clawed feet, so it was a moment’s work to add Ansel’s things, then transform and grab it.
The horse was another matter. It shied every time I approached, even in human form. Fed up, I used a bit of my remaining magic to spell the beast asleep, then carefully picked it up and carried it home. I’d never needed the ancient stable attached to the courtyard, but it was useful now, if only to contain the horse until Ansel awoke.
Neither man nor beast would be able to leave the castle grounds without my permission.
I built a roaring fire in my bedroom fireplace, then curled up on the rug directly in front of it to soak up the warmth.
I was asleep as soon as I closed my eyes.
I awoke to the nearly silent sound of my bedroom door opening. The knight staggered inside, his footsteps unsteady. He really shouldn’t be up yet, but I suppose my death was more important that his life.
Once again, sadness filled me.
A dagger left its sheath with a quiet hiss, and then he knelt next to me, body radiating warmth. I kept my eyes closed and my breathing deep and even.
Metal kissed my neck, and the blade trembled.
“Would you truly let me kill you so easily, Lady Dragon?” Ansel whispered.
I opened my eyes and lifted my chin, exposing more of my neck. “I am not so easily defeated, no. But go ahead, if you must try.”
He lifted the blade from my skin as if I’d burned him.
“Why did you save me?” he demanded.
I sat up and met his eyes. “You were kind to me.”
“I can’t leave. Nor see anything beyond the castle walls.”
“I know. Once you are healed, I will take you to whichever town you prefer, but you will be blindfolded and asleep. I’ve had enough torches and pitchforks in my life. I won’t risk them again.”
Ansel swallowed. “I suppose now I know how you came across the king’s gold,” he said. “I’ve been chasing you for months. A beautiful woman who only wants books, and always pays with a royal mark. You’ve become nearly a legend in the larger merchant circles.”
“Did you know what I was?”
He laughed, but it was a hollow sound. “No, not until the sword bounced from your flesh without leaving a mark. I never even suspected. I thought perhaps you’d found the dragon’s hoard and would be able to lead me to its hiding place.”
I scoffed. “No one steals from a dragon and lives.”
“So if I steal from you, you’ll kill me?”
“Yes,” I agreed, but it sounded like a lie.
He stared at me for a long moment before sheathing his dagger. He tried to bow, but he was hindered by his wounds and his armor, which I hadn’t removed. “Thank you for saving my life. I am in your debt.”
“Don’t die and I’ll consider it paid. You shouldn’t be moving so much. I don’t have the magic to heal you again today.”
He glanced at the fire, and the rug, and the unused bed. “Do you normally sleep here?”
“No.” I should’ve left it there, but I couldn’t resist the curiosity in his eyes. “My body regenerates energy more quickly when I’m warm.”
He twisted with a wince, reaching for the straps of his armor. He slowly unbuckled them, then pulled the chain mail over his head with a groan. I stared. He knew I was a dragon, but he had stripped away his main layer of protection anyway.
Not that it would’ve been much protection, but he didn’t know that.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Sleeping in armor isn’t comfortable.” He set the armor aside, then slowly climbed to his feet. But rather than leaving, he dragged a blanket from the bed and returned.
He lay on the edge of the rug, then pulled the blanket over his body and held it open toward me. “I am warmer than the air.”
I blinked at him in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”
“But I’m a dragon. You know, big, scary, rawr?”
“Are you going to eat me if I stay here?”
My spine straightened in outrage. “Of course not.”
He shrugged. “Good enough for me. You saved my life. I’m tired. You’re tired. I’m warm. You need warmth. Seems easy enough, but I will leave if that’s your preference.”
I hesitantly lay next to him, not quite touching, but close enough I could feel his warmth.
He wrapped the blanket over me and tugged me closer. When I stiffened, he paused. “Is this okay?”
I nodded, then added, “I’m hard to kill. If you plan to try it, you’d better be sure you can finish the job.”
He huffed out a soft breath that feathered over the back of my neck. “Sleep, Lady Dragon. You’re safe with me.”
“It’s Feora,” I murmured.
A soft snore was his only answer.