Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sorcha's Heart ~ Excerpt #2

Excerpt from Sorcha's Heart
Copyright Debbie Mumford 2006
Publisher: Freya's Bower

The moon, a slender curve of light, rose to its apex and began to decline before Sorcha stirred from her solitary vigil on the heights. She made her way back to her lair in a trance of melancholy sleepiness. Passing the great gallery, she came within range of a heated discussion. Caedyrn and the Rex, not expecting any listeners at this dark hour, raged at each other without bothering to keep their link private.

“You must back away from this female, Caedyrn,” said the Rex, his words rife with command.

“A rex cannot bond. You have waited this long. Let this infatuation pass.”

“I haven’t bonded, not out of desire to be rex,” came Caedyrn’s reply, “but because no female has tempted me. You have no right to deny me a bond-mate if I choose to seek one.”

Caedyrn wanted to bond? The thought cut Sorcha’s heart, and she stumbled back the way she’d come, pulling her thoughts away from the vibrant thread of communication. Blindly, she wandered the corridors until fate brought her back to her own empty nest. If she lost Caedyrn, if he bonded with a female… She didn’t know if she could bear the loneliness. Dry eyed and silent, her heart cried her to sleep.

The next morning, she watched the unbonded females with predatory interest. Which had caught his eye? The golden beauty two maturation groups above Morna? Perhaps the sleek, doe-eyed green that chatted with Etna. No, more likely the terra cotta lovely who instructed Sabia in healing. Yes, that one had a regal bearing that would attract a virile male like Caedyrn.
Sorcha’s soul shriveled as she imagined Caedyrn’s glistening black scales curled around her red-brown glow in the privacy of a bonded pair’s nest.

“You’re very intent, this morning.” Caedyrn’s voice sounded in her mind as his snout nudged her shoulder. “Are you thinking of joining Sabia for healing lessons?”

Gods and goddesses! She’d been so lost in murderous thoughts she hadn’t heard him coming. Thankfully, her thoughts had been firmly lodged in the most private portion of her mind.

“No,” she said truthfully, “though I practiced healing as a wizard.” Without giving herself time to think about it, she plunged into the subject that obsessed her thoughts. “No one has explained the bonding process to me,” she said bluntly. “How do dragons choose their mates?”

He looked startled, even took a step backward before he stopped himself. “Well, when a couple is attracted, they spend time together, get to know each other, and then, well, they bond.” He turned and headed for the passage that led to the flight cliff. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Lorcan? My flight group should be assembled by now.”

“That was a non-answer,” she said, following him out of the great gallery. “How do dragons bond?”

He picked up his pace and pulled ahead of her. “I’m late, Sorcha. My students are expecting me. Besides,” he cast a glance over his shoulder as he reached a turn in the corridor, “that is a question for Etna, not me.” He disappeared around the bend and his words faded as well.

“Coward,” she thought after him.

Later, Etna refused to expand on Caedyrn’s answer, so Sorcha sought out a sure source of information, if not knowledge.

“May I join you?” she asked as she peered into the entrance of Morna’s lair.

“Of course,” said Morna.

“Definitely,” chorused Oona, Nuala and Sabia.

“We thought you’d never ask,” said Keeva.

She stepped inside the round room carved long ago by dragon magic. The nests of the young females’ lined the walls, and were satisfyingly scrunchy masses of limbs, river rocks and the occasional precious stone. The center of the chamber, where the females gathered to groom and chat, was bare, polished ice.

Keeva and Sabia reclined on their nests while Oona and Morna burnished Nuala’s scales with alternating puffs of steam and fingers of fire. Nuala basked in the attention.

“My mentors have been avoiding my questions today,” Sorcha said. “I wondered if you could answer them for me.”

The three in the center froze, while the two on their nests quickly sat up.

Morna recovered first. “You asked a question they wouldn’t answer?”

Sorcha nodded and the others encouraged her into the center of the room.

“Ooooo,” said Keeva. “It must have been really bad! Elders are bound to answer our questions.”

Oona nudged Keeva aside. “Don’t mind her,” she said, her voice dripping smug superiority. “Keeva just loves juicy gossip.”

“As if you don’t,” cried Keeva.

Sabia pushed between the snorting blue and mauve. “Peace, friends. Let’s hear the question!”

“Yes,” said Nuala, the usually shy dragon’s eyes shone with excitement. “What did you ask?”

“Well, I didn’t think it was forbidden or anything,” said Sorcha, beginning to worry that she might offend the young females. “I just asked how dragons bond. Um, I mean, how you choose your bond-mate. Though, I must admit, I’m curious about the actual mating, too.”

“And they wouldn’t tell you?” Morna looked appalled. “There’s nothing secret or offensive about that.”

Sorcha looked around the circle and saw multicolored expressions droop with disappointment. All but one, Oona looked thoughtful.

“What is it, Oona?” she asked.

“Well, it’s probably nothing, but…” She stopped and her lair mates butted her with noses and triangular tails. “Okay. I heard the Rex telling Lorcan and Etna that Sorcha isn’t to be allowed to rise.”


“You must have misunderstood.”

“They wouldn’t do that.”

Oona nodded wisely. “It’s because she’s human,” she said, giving Sorcha an apologetic glance. “The Rex doesn’t want her joining the flight, because he isn’t sure what she is.”

A cold lump formed in the pit of Sorcha’s stomach. If she couldn’t be a human, and the dragons didn’t want her, what would she do? She pushed the thought away and concentrated on a more tangible question.

“What do you mean, I’m not to be allowed to rise? Does he mean politically?”

Five pairs of eyes stared at her blankly. Finally Morna blinked. “Politically?” she asked.
Sabia laughed. “No, Sorcha. He means he doesn’t want you to mate. Once a year, all the eligible females rise for their mating flight. Those of us who fly high enough have the opportunity to bond during that flight.”

Varied pieces of information suddenly formed a recognizable picture. Caedyrn saying her odd color was exotic and attractive—his angry reaction to the young males’ comments—the Rex arguing with him about bonding. Realization hit Sorcha like a breaker pounding the beach. If she’d still had a human body, the psychic blow might have knocked her off her feet. Caedyrn and the Rex had been arguing about her. Caedyrn wanted to mate with her, a human wizard turned to dragon by a magical talisman. Joy filled her soul and tingled down to her toes and tail. Maybe spending the rest of her life as a dragon wouldn’t be so bad after all. If only she could bond with Caedyrn…

“Sorcha? Are you alright?” Sabia sounded worried, and when Sorcha glanced up, she found all five of the young females watching her closely.

She shook herself, a massive, body-wide shiver, and said, “Yes, I’m fine. It’s okay. The Rex probably thinks I’m too inexperienced for such things. And he’s right. I’ve still got so much to learn about being a dragon.”

This statement eased the tension in the room. The lair-mates burst into excited speculation about which males might make good bond-mates, and Sorcha relaxed to listen and think.

A mating flight. Suddenly the comments she’d overheard from the group of males had meaning. Her first flight. They hadn’t meant the first time she flew; they’d meant the first time she would participate in the mating ritual. Her mind whirled with the implications. She had suitors. Charcoal Goban, scarlet Toal and malachite Heber had been making seemingly good-natured comments to her about practicing her flying and improving her wind ever since that first encounter. Her human side groaned as she remembered the many times she’d answered that she loved to fly! Gods and goddesses, she’d been making sexually suggestive remarks without even knowing it. Those young males probably thought she was interested in them.

Another question lit her mind, and Sorcha blurted out, “Do dragons ever engage in sex without bonding?”

All chatter stopped. The group’s attention centered on Sorcha and silence reigned.

At last, Morna answered. “Humans must be very strange creatures,” she said. “We females rise once a year, and if we mate and bear a clutch, we don’t feel the urge to rise again until the hatchlings have graduated to dragonets. Why would we squander such a precious moment on males unworthy of forming a lifelong bond?”

“No, Sorcha,” Sabia said quietly. “As young unbondeds, we participate in the flight and try to fly high enough to qualify for a bond-mate. But there’s more to it than flying. Once we’re mature enough to reach mating height, we’ve already chosen the males we’ll allow to catch us.”

“It’s a race,” said Oona, “and it’s exhilarating, but it’s not random.”

“Yeah,” said Keeva, her eyes glowing with excitement, “and if an unbonded male gets excited and tries to catch a female who hasn’t consented, she’s allowed to attack him!”

“Only if her rightful male doesn’t scorch him first,” added Nuala, thumping her tail in emphasis.

“So, there aren’t ever any bonding mistakes? No rogue males ravish unwilling females? No female says ‘yes’ to one male and then changes her mind mid-flight and allows another to catch her?”

The atmosphere in the room grew heavy, and the lair mates shifted positions uneasily.

“Well, yes,” said Morna. “We’ve heard whispers of such things.”

“But they’re not common,” said Sabia.

“And dragons that commit such crimes are banished from the flight,” said Oona with a prim little sniff. “We don’t tolerate such misbehavior.”

“Of course,” added Nuala, “a female is free to change her mind until she bonds, as are the males.”

“But I’ve never heard of anyone changing their choice during the mating flight,” said Morna. “Like Sabia said, there’s more to it than the excitement of the moment.”

“I’m sorry,” Sorcha said, wishing to dispel the serious mood. “I hope I didn’t offend.”

“Don’t worry,” Sabia said. “You can’t learn if you don’t ask questions. I can’t believe the elders wouldn’t discuss these things with you.”



“Completely irresponsible.”

And the group slid into a rousing chat about how they’d be more responsive to the needs of the young when they became elders. In the midst of covering laughter and unflattering comments about their teachers, Sorcha made her way to the corridor. She needed peace and quiet to sort through the evening’s information.

“Good night, Sorcha.” Morna’s voice sounded quietly in her mind. “Come and join us anytime.”

She smiled to herself and continued toward her solitary lair. “Good night, ladies.”