“Guards.” My fathers’ voice rose. There was something in the tone that I didn’t recognize.
“Honor your word, Amanita.” Eirikr the Dragon Lords’ rumble interrupted.
My fathers’ face twisted into something I had not seen since the day my mother died. He raised his hand and waved at Eirikr. “Slay the dragon.”
My mind grasped for answered. How did the leader of an enemy army make into the castle? Did the mystics in the mountains learn how to bend space? I looked to my father to see his face had drained of color. The guards around the room drew their weapons. Eirikr let out a high whistle; a moment later the room erupted in a clatter of noise as serving trays were dumped on the floor. Every gnome in the ballroom brandished wicked long-knives.
“Do you think I would be so easily deceived?” A great row of knife-sharp teeth flashed as the Dragon Lord smiled.
For a moment my gaze jumped from my father to the dragon. The tempo on the dance floor shifted as the fighting started. Potential suitors from across the realms and their entourages found themselves in the middle of a tussle between the royal guards, the desert gnomes disguised as servers, and the small force of lizardmen led by Eirikr.
Two gnomes rushed toward Marius only to have Ludovic boot one to the floor and my short foreign suitor to crown the other was a solid fist.
“My princess,” Marius stepped in front of me. “Please excuse the interruption.”
“Good, Sir Knight.” I held my hand out and took hold of the sword Bellis offered to me. “It is a small thing.”
He looked at the spatha in my hand then back at Bellis who shifted a panel in her long dress closed. She gave a wink to Ludovic, who looked on the verge of proposing marriage, and fell into position on my left. The four of us held our ground as the gnomes turned their attention to my location. Two guards had been stationed on the balcony nearby and they joined our group. I knocked a slippery gnome to the ground with the pommel of my sword and caught sight of Eirikr. The Dragon Lord was closer to me now. His lizardmen had made short work of the guards that tried to stop them.
Two large strides brought Eirikr close enough for his low growl to vibrate my earrings. A single backhand send Ludovic sliding across the floor and a powerful kick tossed Marius out the nearby window. The balcony railing prevented him from taking a long fall, but he didn’t look to be getting up soon. Bellis dipped and danced around three lizardmen as they pushed her farther away from me.
Time slowed as my brain registered the situation. I was alone against this Dragon Lord. The gnomes had busied the guards, the lizardmen had isolated my lady, and Eirikr had dispatched the foreigners. My world was now this dragon and my sword. It all faded away. The kingdom, the looming war, the refugees below.
“Dragon.” I saluted with my sword.
He gave a short nod. “Princess.”
“Terms?” I shifted my feet to adjust for my taller opponent and thanked the gods that I hadn’t chosen the high-heels.
“Your father has already set the terms.” A single clawed finger touched his chest.
“To the death then?”
A puff of smoke wisped up from his nostrils. “No, princess, for life.”
I leapt forward, my sword sung through the air. He sure did move fast for someone so large. My blade flicked to the left, then right. It dipped, prodded, and circled, but I couldn’t touch him; aside from a few superficial cuts on his tunic. He moved so fast. The times my blade slipped passed his guard it would be turned away on his scaled skin. Each little cut in his tunic inspired another wisp of smoke. He was laughing at me.
He juked to the left to avoid my blade. Something underneath his tunic moved. My eyes caught the hint of a gold chain around his neck. We locked eyes for an instant. My blade flew forward and cut the chain from around his neck. A familiar shape fell out of a tear on his chest and he caught it at my eye level. His clawed hand opened to show me the truth.
There in palm of his hand was a signet ring. It looked exactly the same as the last time I had seen it. There was a small dent along the top and the jewel in the center was the color of the stars at night. My father had stopped wearing it when the refugees had arrived.
Eirikr and I locked eyes. He didn’t move as I took the ring.
“Father.” I didn’t scream, but everyone in the ballroom heard me. I had been trained since birth to speak in a royal voice.
The fighting stopped as the room turned to look at me. I looked my father in the eyes as I held up the ring from him to see. He watched as I placed the ring on my thumb and took the hand that Eirikr had held the ring in. I flipped the sword in my grip and handed it to Bellis, who had taken the stillness to approach.
“If you will excuse us.” I motioned to the door. “It would be best if we left.”
Bellis fell into step behind me.
“Attend to our foreign friends, Bellis.”
“I’ll call for you once I’m settled.”
Eirikr looked down at my gloved hand in his. There was a question behind his eyes as he looked at me. I nodded and led him toward the door. He let out a sharp whistle as we made it safely through the ballroom doors. The remaining gnomes and lizardmen filed through the doors and formed up as a protective detail as we walked on.
The ball had been a success, I had found a suitor to deal with the invasion.