Her pulse pounded hard, reverberating in my ears from across the clearing. Her fear was a pungent bitterness on the wind, so sharp, the tang on my tongue forced me to swallow hard. Her head swiveled in my direction. She knew I was there. She knew she was being hunted. But no matter how hard she peered through the trees, she find the predator, my dragon senses more acute and more refined than hers.
My arrow notched, I drew the bowstring back with meticulous care, waiting for her to emerge from the brush just enough to manage a clean shot. The burn in my shoulders and the sting in my index and middle fingers radiated through my arm and hand. But I made not a sound. Silent as death, I waited. My patience always served me well. I always caught my quarry. I lived for the hunt, every aspect—the find, the chase, the corral, the capture, and the kill—all of it sung to my very bones.
A twig cracked as her slender leg stepped out. The sweet burn in my shoulder intensified, but still I moved not a muscle, my dragon senses honed in on my fair target. Then it happened, she stepped once more and before I could snap my arrow loose, a hissing zing shot past my head and thudded into the doe’s chest. She fell on the spot, her legs kicking out in the throes of death.
I whirled, swinging my bow with me. “What the bloody hell?”
A hearty laugh echoed from the line of trees then my brother flew down from the shadowed treetops. His dark green wings were the perfect camouflage, the distinct trait of our Huntergild clan.
“Sinjin, you son of a bitch. I nearly had her.”
“You were taking too long.”
“I was concentrating. You stole my game.”
“It’s not stealing if I get to her first. You’re getting slow in your old age.”
“I’m only seventy, young pup. More skilled and experienced than you.”*
I followed him to the doe, now laying lifeless on the soft grass. Sinjin pulled the arrow from her chest, wiped the blood on his hide pants, then raised the arrow with an arched brow and a devilish grin. “You were saying?”
With a heavy sigh, I knelt and pulled the ten-inch blade from my boot. Deftly, I slit the doe down the center from ribcage to lower belly. I pulled out the innards and left them for the beasts of Wilding Wood. Taking twine rope from my belt, I cinched the doe’s forelegs together then the back and hoisted her over one shoulder. After sheathing my bow to my back, I turned to my baby brother.
“I can carry my own quarry, Bowen. You don’t have to do that anymore.”
“Old habits die hard. Let’s go.”
With a swift bend of my legs, I whipped open my wings and beat them hard, lifting straight up over the top branches of Wilding Wood, aiming for home. Sinjin soared beside me, both of us quiet as we made our southward.
We’d gone hundreds of hunts together over the years. Thousands, probably. We were both mirror images of our father. The only differing tell was our eyes. My eyes were that of my mother. Sinjin bore those of his own mother, our father’s wife.
We banked left over the grove of evergolds growing thick at the center of the wood where our clan nestled. The ancient trees were bright with fiery leaves. Though beautiful, my sight was drawn into the far distance. My dragon sight narrowed on the towers of the Primean Palace. The royal castle and realm of the monarchy ruling the human-only Province of Primus. The very place where my mother lived with my two half-sisters, Serena and Lena.
“Why don’t you go visit them? You know your mother misses you.” Sinjin’s words vanished on the wind.
We banked right as one toward the mountain’s foothills where our clan had resided for over a thousand years. Close enough to Primus to trade goods. And close enough for my father to fall for a woman who was forbidden to him.
“It’s getting harder every time. The king doesn’t take to the likes of me wandering through his gardens.”
Sinjin scoffed. “That’s because he knows your mother still loves our father. And she never produced a son as his heir.”
Sinjin was right. Though my mother had no control over whether she bore boys or girls, she only bore a son for the man she loved before her king and husband. There was cold resentment in the king’s eyes those few moments I’d been in his presence.
We landed on the mountain ledge overlooking Huntergild Glen. Hoisting the doe onto my shoulder more securely, I finally agreed. “But you’re right. I should go soon. My sisters are growing so fast.”
“Oh? And how is beautiful Serena these days?”
I glared at Sinjin. “Don’t get any ideas. I’ll cut off your cock if you try to seduce my sister. Besides, it’s…strange.”
Sinjin laughed that throaty infectious laugh he had. “She’s not my blood kin, brother.”
“Keep your eyes and every other part of you to yourself, little brother.”
He shook his head. “She is a beauty. Whatever man wins her is lucky indeed.”
“Indeed. But it won’t be you.”
We stepped off the last rock ledge onto the forest floor, the clan bustling with activity for the monthly feast. I swung the deer off my shoulder and she landed squarely against Sinjin’s chest.
“There. Now, get your head out of the clouds and go skin your deer.”
He walked a few steps and called over his shoulder. “My head wasn’t in the clouds. It was in a castle.” He gave me a wink and a grin then whistled away.
Cocky little bastard. But I loved him.
I’d definitely need to arrange a visit to the Primean Palace before I set off for Drakos. Kol Moonring, General of the Morgon Guard, had summoned me back early from my leave. Trouble was brewing in the eastern provinces, and he needed me. From what I gathered, I might not return home for quite some time.
“Come, Bowen! Join us!” called my old friend, Feriden, standing near a circular stone fire-pit with others, tankards of ale in their fists.
I waved with a smile, heading toward them. Tonight, I’d enjoy the feast. Tomorrow I’d pay a visit to my mother and sisters. The gods only knew when I’d see them again.
*AUTHOR NOTE: Morgons have a longer lifespan than humans. The average Morgon lives well into their 300s or 400s, but some have lived even beyond this age. Therefore, Bowen at sixty years old is a Morgon actually in his prime, not the equivalent to a human in his seventies.