The Dragon’s Appraiser: Part Three
“I’m not in the mood.”
Sevrrn’s hand froze on Madja’s breast. He might have considered ignoring her comment and continuing his ministrations until she gave in, but the look on her face gave him pause. That, and her utter lack of arousal.
No flushed cheeks, no coy smile, not even the barest hint of reciprocity.
It was impossible for anyone to live as long as Sevrrn had without an abundance of patience. And as far as dragons went, Sevrrn was not nearly as impulsive as his sister had been, nor as prone to reckless behavior as his brothers. In fact, his patience was quite legendary in many circles, which was why he was almost as annoyed with himself as he was with Madja.
It had been two weeks since she had allowed him inside of her and it was trying his patience like nothing before.
Agitation was a parasite crawling beneath his skin, and Sevrrn retracted his hand while serving Madja a withering look.
“Why should your mood take priority over mine?” he found himself snapping. At least, he hoped he was snapping, because to his own ears, he sounded almost petulant.
Madja gave him a look that said she wasn’t impressed, then did what was probably best for the both of them: changed the subject.
“Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do about Allona?”
Sevrrn accepted the distraction as a chance to let himself calm down. He stretched out his long limbs, taking little pleasure in the luxurious bed silks.
“I have considered it, but there is another matter I must attend to first.”
Madja rolled onto her side to face him. “What is it?”
“I have been thinking a great deal about your mortality.” Among many things. “Several years ago, I heard of a human king who is said to be immortal.”
“The king of Dvoria,” Madja said, a spark of interest appearing in her gaze. “He’s said to be five hundred years old. Rumor is that he’s some sort of half-breed, that his mother had an affair with an immortal creature.”
Sevrrn shook his head. “He is human, and from what I have heard, he is in possession of a very rare artifact, one that grants immortality. I am going to investigate this further, and if it proves true, then I will hire someone to obtain this object.”
“I see…” she said, no longer seeming particularly interested. “How long will that take?”
“I will have to go to the other realm. There, it will only take a few days. Here, it could be as much as a month.”
Her brows drew together in confusion, and he realized he would have to explain.
“Time moves differently in each realm. I am unsure of the exact conversion, but I believe a day there is a week in the human realm.”
“But Allona could attack any time now.”
“The islanders are not my concern. You are. It could be years before this artifact is recovered. Each day I do not pursue it is another day that you will age.”
He had thought that his diligence in making her immortal would have pleased Madja. But as he so often was when it came to her, Sevrrn was wrong.
“I’m twenty-five. I’m not going to die of old age any time soon. Defending Erda is more—” Madja gave a sharp intake of breath, then expelled it in a loud sneeze. She apologized and swiped at her nose, her cheeks coloring slightly. “Sorry. I was saying, defending Erda is more important. Besides, time moves slowly here, right? We’re not really losing much time by staying here for a few more weeks.”
“We are not going anywhere,” Sevrrn corrected. “You cannot come with me.”
“What do you mean, I can’t come with you?”
“The air in the other realm is not breathable for humans. You would only survive there for a few moments before asphyxiating.”
The atmosphere in the other realm was rich in aether, an essential element for all of the creatures that humans revered as land gods—beings ranging from the lowliest of magical entities to dragons. Without aether, powerful beings such as himself would gradually die in a manner not unlike starvation.
Sevrrn’s lair, more specifically, the lake within his lair, was situated over a soft spot, a place where the fabric between the worlds thinned. It not only facilitated travel between the two realms, but also made it so that he could siphon enough aether to comfortably sustain himself in the human realm.
“So you were just going to leave me…for a whole month?”
Madja’s question brought his wandering mind back to reality. A strange feeling stirred in his chest as he looked upon her dejected expression. Why was she looking at him like that?
“Do not worry. You will be safe in the lair.” When that didn’t seem to cheer her up, he added, “I will also make sure you have plenty of food before I go.”
Madja opened her mouth, looking as though she were about to say something. Then, she bit down on her lip and gave a small nod before rolling over. Sevrrn stared at her back, the feeling in his chest expanding and intensifying.
Would you die for me?
That was where this had all begun. Since that day, two weeks ago, Madja had not been the same.
What had she expected him to say? Had she wanted him to lie to her?
He had known Madja for less than half a year. Somehow, she was already the biggest part of his life, yet she was just that—a part of his life. As she had said herself, she was only twenty-five. There were gods, true gods, that were younger than him. In terms of logic alone, her existence was wholly insignificant when stacked against his own. How could she possibly expect him to give his life up for hers?
If anyone should be angry, it should be him.
But he wasn’t.
He was something else.
The feeling inside of him spread further still, weighing him down like a blanket of lead.
Sadness? Too vague.
Depression? Too deep.
Yes, perhaps that was the one.
Madja dreamed of chicken soup. She lay in her four-poster bed, propped up by a half-dozen pillows, as her father carefully spooned the soup into her waiting mouth. The broth was just as she liked it: extra pepper, but easy on the salt. The onions were finely chopped so as not to compete with the chunks of juicy, succulent chicken. She could still smell the delicious soup long after she’d awoken and hauled herself out of bed.
It was the first time since she’d known him that Sevrrn had allowed her to sleep in. Judging by the position of the sun, which she could just barely see through the hole in the top of the mountain, it was some time after noon. She wanted to believe that oversleeping had made her lethargic, but her stuffy nose and scratchy throat heralded a cold.
She found Sevrrn waiting patiently for her, not too far from the lake. There were a few random objects arrayed in front of him, presumably awaiting her appraisal.
There was something off about the snags in his white-gold hair, which was usually groomed with meticulous precision. She also noticed that his scaled robe was slightly uneven, exposing a large section of his muscular chest. Madja was glad that she wasn’t feeling well, thus making it easier to keep up the pretense that she wasn’t impossibly attracted to him.
“You shouldn’t have let me sleep so late,” she said, coming to sit beside him.
Sevrrn’s gaze swept over her, his mouth curling with evident disapproval. “I tried to wake you. Twice. The second time, you slapped me.”
He pointed to his cheek, presumably where she had struck him, but any evidence that would implicate her had long since faded. Madja pressed her lips together so as not to grin.
“I don’t remember that at all.” Her words were quickly followed by a sneeze that sent a bolt of discomfort racing up her skull.
“Are you ill?” he asked.
“It’s nothing,” Madja said with a small wave of her hand. “Just a little cold. I must have picked it up when we went to town.”
His eyes widened. “Where? Why?”
This time, she couldn’t suppress her grin. “There’s no way to say where exactly, and I didn’t get sick on purpose. It just happens to us silly humans sometimes.”
“Do you become sick often?”
“I did when I was a kid,” she said. “Now, I suppose I get sick as often as the next person. Do dragons ever get sick?”
“Never,” he told her. “What will happen to you?”
Madja could tell that he was worried, and she’d be lying if she said it didn’t make her a little happy. Thankfully for Sevrrn, she wasn’t feeling particularly vindictive, and so she tried to reassure him.
“Nothing much. My nose will be runny, I’ll sneeze for a while, and I may lose my voice for a day or two. But all I need is a decent amount of rest and I’ll be better in no time.”
He didn’t seem convinced. “When Erda began trading by sea, foreigners brought sickness to the island. The humans developed lesions on their skin. They filled with black pus, and then burst. The lesions oozed for a week, until they became infected. Then, the humans would begin to vomit bile and—”
“That sounds like The Rat Plague,” Madja said, wanting to cut him off more than anything else. Bile was rising in her own throat and she couldn’t stomach another moment of his grisly account. “I read about that once. It happened almost a thousand years ago.”
“One thousand, twenty-four human years ago,” he said. “I went to the festival that year. There were dead rotting in the streets and not enough living to bury them.” His eyes narrowed. “But, they still had fireworks that year.”
The fireworks were how the islanders honored Sevrrn, their patron god and protector. To Sevrrn, it may have seemed like the people of the island were exceptionally devout. Even when they were dying en masse, they still took the time to pay tribute to him.
It had probably never occurred to him that it was then that they needed him more than ever.
Or that their god was no more capable of saving them than they were of saving themselves.
If only they had saved their money on festivities and bought medicine instead.
“That was a long time ago, and it was a plague, which is a lot different than a seasonal cold.” She rolled up the sleeves of her robe, baring her arms to Sevrrn. “Look: no pus-filled lesions.”
Sevrrn took her arm by the wrist. Her skin seemed coarse and ruddy in comparison to his smooth, pearlescent texture. He pulled her arm up to his face for what she thought was a thorough examination. Sevrrn surprised her by placing a kiss on her palm.
The uncharacteristically tender gesture made her throat constrict. She gave him a tight smile and pulled her arm back.
“Well,” she said, awkwardly gesturing at the objects on the floor. “Shall we get started?”
Sevrrn was visibly disgruntled as she began appraising, and Madja could hardly blame him. She wasn’t sure how long she could stay angry with him, or why she had even bothered being angry in the first place. After all, Sevrrn had been completely honest with her.
Would you die for me?
As soon as she’d said it, Madja realized how stupid the question was. They’d only been together a few months and she was the first lover he had ever taken. He was still muddling through a quagmire of foreign emotions and could barely even articulate his feelings for her. If that wasn’t enough, she’d asked him an absurdly ridiculous and unrealistic question. Would he give up his entire existence for her?
Even now, Madja wanted to roll her eyes. Under what circumstances would Sevrrn’s life even be in jeopardy? How could her life even hang in the balance of his sacrifice? It was downright stupid of her to ask him such a question.
It wasn’t so much his answer that had hurt her. It was how he answered.
Firm, decisive, absolute, and requiring zero consideration. He hadn’t needed to think about it for even a second. Wasn’t she worth even a second’s thought?
And it hurt all the more because Madja knew that if he had posed the same, ridiculous question to her, she wouldn’t have hesitated either.
Even knowing that he wouldn’t do the same, Madja would still die for him. Of course, there were many factors that went into that. Like, how she was just an unimportant, mortal woman and he was an ancient dragon and the guardian of an entire civilization. What was her life compared to that?
But there was also that great and terrible fact: the fact that she was in love with him.
Madja wasn’t sure when she had started having feelings for him. Probably sometime around the first time they’d made love. Sex had a way of forging an artificial bond between two people. A bond that, if given time and adequate emotional investment, could grow into something substantive and powerful.
And in Madja’s case, it had. Over the months that they’d lived together, shared meals together, and talked about the world, she had fallen in love with the dragon. It was partly his remarkable beauty, which never ceased to captivate her. It was also his fascination with history, something she’d never encountered in any man aside from her father. It was even his intelligence, which in matters of logic was astoundingly keen, but hilariously and endearingly inept in most other things. And after every day of being drawn deeper and more inexorably close to him, they would share what had to be the most amazing and passionate lovemaking. Then, he would hold her in his arms, and she felt as though a part of him was slowly seeping into her skin, down into the very marrow of her bones.
Yes, Madja undoubtedly loved him.
And therein lay the disparity.
Would you die for me?
Absurd as it was, that question highlighted the fundamental truth of their relationship. Sevrrn meant more to her, than she meant to him. It would probably always be that way, and there was little she could ever do to change it.
And it hurt.
Madja looked up from the votive statue in her hands. Sevrrn was staring at her intently, his elegant brows creased.
“Huh?” she asked.
“Your words, you slurred them.”
Madja blushed. She’d been appraising on autopilot and had barely been aware that she was even speaking. “Oh, sorry. What was I saying?”
Sevrrn ignored the question. “You’re sweating.”
She reached up to swipe at her forehead, finding that there was in fact a sheen of sweat covering it.
“I must have a fever,” she said. “Can you feel my forehead?”
For once, he seemed intimidated. “Feel for what?”
“If I have a fever, my body temperature will be elevated and I won’t be able to tell if my forehead is hot. I’ll need you to check for me.”
Appearing to understand, Sevrrn placed a hand on her forehead. His lips pressed into a thin line.
“You are warm.”
If a dragon was saying that she was ‘warm,’ she most definitely had a fever.
“Let’s take a break then. I should probably lay down and nap.”
Madja pushed herself up, attempting to stand. Her body felt unusually weak and she swayed to one side, losing her balance.
Sevrrn caught her before she fell over. Effortlessly, he lifted her up into his strong arms and carried her away from the lake. She rested her head on his shoulder, enjoying the closeness. When he finally put her down on the bed of silks, she felt a twinge of remorse.
“Will you be better when you wake?”
Madja thought he sounded nervous, but decided that was preposterous.
“Of course,” she mumbled, cuddling up to a pillow and closing her eyes. “I just need a little rest, that’s all.”
“But what if you are not better?” he asked. “What if you are still sick? What do I do then?”
Her lips curved into a slow smile.
“Make me some chicken soup.”
Coming May 5th