Sariya looked up from the study of Mt St Helens on her laptop as the bookcase opened to a frazzled and fuming Marcus.

“Oh dear, what now?”

“A royal ball if you please. Attendance compulsory for all dragon-tied, the night after we were supposed to leave for Drakkenspire.”

“We could still leave as planned, or go early if you don’t want to get caught up in it.”

“You missed the important bit, dragon-tied. ALL dragon-tied. They may not have realised you’re connected to all the gemscales but they do know Mav was named by a mysterious ‘other’. The only reason I’m not currently accompanied by five footmen, three ladies in waiting, a maid and half the castle guard is the almighty diversion your dragons are currently creating and a mixture of bribery and begging for my newly-acquired personal guard.”

“And if I don’t attend?”

“I won’t be left alone for a second. I’ll either have to blow the connection between our worlds wide open or never see you again.”

Sariya stood, “How long should I pack for and what do I need to bring?”

Marcus kissed her and she realised he was shaking.

She cupped his face in her hands, “Breathe, we’ll get through this, then we’ll head to the volcano-dragon and work out what’s going on there and how to stop it being a disaster. It’s only an extra day.”

“A day we might not have, but no, let’s mess up your life and put my country in danger because an overdressed dance party is so much more important.”

She kissed him and repeated, “We’ll get through this. You and me, together.”

Some of the tension dropped from his shoulders and the shaking eased a little, “Together.”

“Now come and help me pack. You know I don’t have a thing to wear to a royal ball.”

Marcus smiled evilly, “How about that dress you wore to the rugby club summer ball? It’ll be warm enough in the ballroom.”

Sariya gave him the side-eye, “I’m guessing that outfit is not likely to be in line with your usual fashions at these events.”

“It’ll cause collective chaos across the entire party. If they’re determined to mess with things they have no concept of and frankly are none of their business, I reserve the right to set the cat amongst the pigeons and turn every one of those toxic-clawed fluffies the most hideous shade of green with envy.”

“You say the sweetest things.”, She pulled the slinky-yet-elegant dress from the cupboard, grabbed the towering stilettos she wore with it and dumped both on the bed to pack.

Marcus was clearly recovering his equilibrium, “Point me to your hiking and outdoor gear. I’ll grab that while you take care of the various items I’d get wrong.”

Working together they quickly had a backpack (sensible) and tote bag (party) packed and ready.

Sariya switched off the lights, texted a few friends to say they were leaving early for their camping trip, then followed Marcus back through the bookshelf.

They made good time through the tunnel and managed to leave the cave entrance with no one the wiser. Marcus took her hand and led her round the side of a large stone wall to a small, deep-set door and knocked.

“It’s about time Your Highness, and you’d better have a flaming good reason for – holy hells”, The scolding guardsman caught sight of Sariya.

“Sariya, this is Samuel, head of my personal guard and a phenomenal nag. Samuel, this is Sariya. If anyone so much as breathes disrespectfully in her direction I want them severely reprimanded.”



Samuel was bustled backwards as Marcus drew Sariya through the door and bolted it behind them.

He then moved into the courtyard Samuel had been lurking in and gave a short, piercing whistle, “Calling off the dragons.”

“Do I want to know what they’ve been up to?”

“Probably not, but they’re most likely going to tell you all about it anyway. They’ve been enjoying themselves immensely. It’s probably been good for them to be honest, they haven’t had a proper hunt or chase in a while.”

Marcus looked around for the still dumbfounded guard, “Samuel, you’re going to have to step up a bit quicker if you’re going to make a habit of being my shadow. I’m a busy man and there is a lot to deal with.”

Sariya snorted, “Busy man indeed, and what are you going to set poor Samuel to study when term starts again?”

“Diplomacy and possibly the history of warfare just to completely terrify him.”

Crossing the courtyard, Marcus took a corner door and headed up what was presumably a servants’ staircase.

“Where are we going?”

“My suite.”

“Sir, that is most unsuitable, you cannot entertain an unmarried woman in your quarters, you will both be severely compromised.”

“Do not say it Marcus.”

“Now I want to know what you think I was going to say. I was going to say he’s a perfectly adequate chaperone and will do fine until the chambers next to mine are properly prepared for you.”

“But Your Highness, there’s a connecting door.”

“With a lock, and Sariya will hold the key.”

“And I will be leaving the key in the lock and the door wide open.”

Samuel lost the power of speech at this stage.

As they reached Marcus’ suite, the five gemscale dragons entered down the chimney, clearly in high spirits and flustering Samuel still further.

They flocked to Sariya, all clamouring for her attention, and her approval of whatever it was they had done to divert attention for Marcus’ mission. She still wasn’t entirely sure what they’d done but had some very interesting impressions of fireworks, ‘accidental’ combustion of floral displays and dirty pond water all over the ‘fluffies’ they held in such extreme aversion.

Samuel somehow managed to produce additional members of staff to see to Sariya’s rooms and some food.

As the flock of maids attempted to sweep Sariya through the door, Marcus draped the chain of the door key around her neck, glaring at the officious-looking maid who tried to intercept it and moved in for a goodnight kiss.

Under the cover of the general chaos this caused, they agreed that both bags would stay with him to avoid detection and probable removal by the gaggle.

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