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Love in the Time of Dragons ld-1, Page 2

Katie MacAlister

  “We’ll talk about it when I get back. I suppose I should talk to Gareth,” I said, not wanting to do any such thing.

  “Can’t. He’s in Barcelona.”

  “Oh. Is Ruth there?”

  “No, she went with him.”

  Panic gripped me. “You’re not alone, are you?” “Sullivan, I’m not a child,” he answered, sounding indignant that I would question the wisdom gained during his lifetime, all nine years of it. “I can stay by myself.” “Not for five weeks you can’t—”

  “It’s OK. When Ruth and Gareth left, and you didn’t come back, Penny said I could stay with her until you came home.” I sagged against the bed, unmindful of the two women watching me so closely. “Thank the stars for Penny. I’ll be home just as soon as I can get on a plane. Do you have a pen?” “Sec.”

  I covered the phone and looked at the woman named May. “Is there a phone number I can give my son in case of an emergency?” “Your son?” she asked, her eyes widening. “Yes. Here.” I took the card she pulled from her pocket, reading the number off it to Brom. “You stay with Penny until I can get you, all right?” “Geez, Sullivan, I’m not a ’tard.”

  “A what?” I asked.

  “A ’tard. You know, a retard.”

  “I’ve asked you not to use those sorts of… oh, never mind. We’ll discuss words that are hurtful and should not be used another time. Just stay with Penny, and if you need me, call me at the number I gave you. Oh, and Brom?” “What?” he asked in that put-upon voice that nine-year-old boys the world over can assume with such ease.

  I turned my back on the two women. “I love you bunches. You remember that, OK?” “ ’K.” I could almost hear his eyes rolling. “Hey, Sullivan, how come you had your thing now? I thought it wasn’t supposed to happen until around Halloween.” “It isn’t, and I don’t know why it happened now.” “Gareth’s going to be pissed he missed it. Did you… you know… manifest the good stuff?” My gaze moved slowly around the room. It seemed like a pretty normal bedroom, containing a large bureau, a bed, a couple of chairs and a small table with a ruffly cloth on it, and a white stone fireplace. “I don’t know. I’ll call you later when I have some information about when I’ll be landing in Madrid, all right?” “Later, French mustachioed waiter,” he said, using his favorite childhood rhyme.

  I smiled at the sound of it, missing him, wishing there was a way to magically transport myself to the small, overcrowded, noisy apartment where we lived so I could hug him and ruffle his hair, and marvel yet again that such an intelligent, wonderful child was mine.

  “Thank you,” I said, handing the cell phone back to May. “My son is only nine. I knew he would be worried about what happened to me.” “Nine.” May and Kaawa exchanged another glance. “Nine… years?” “Yes, of course.” I sidled away, just in case one or both of the women turned out to be crazy after all. “This is very awkward, but I’m afraid I have no memory of either of you. Have we met?” “Yes,” Kaawa said. She wore a pair of loose-fitting black palazzo pants and a beautiful black top embroidered in silver with all sorts of Aboriginal animal designs. Her hair was twisted into several braids, pulled back into a short ponytail. “I met you once before, in Cairo.” “Cairo?” I prodded the solid black mass that was my memory. Nothing moved. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been in Cairo. I live in Spain, not Egypt.” “This was some time ago,” the woman said carefully.

  Perhaps she was someone I had met while travelling with Dr. Kostich. “Oh? How long ago?” She looked at me silently for a moment, then said, “About three hundred years.”

  Chapter Two

  “Y solde is awake again,” May said as the door to the study was opened.

  I looked up from where I had been staring down into the cup of coffee cradled in my hands. Two men entered the room, both tall and well-built, and curiously enough, both with grey eyes. The first one who entered paused at May’s chair, his hand smoothing over her short hair as he looked me over. I returned the look, noting skin the color of milky coffee, a close-cut goatee, and shoulder-length dreadlocks.

  “Again?” the man asked.

  “She fainted after she woke up the first time.” I eyed him. After the last hour, I’d given up the idea that May and Kaawa were potentially dangerous — they let me have a shower, had promised to feed me, and had given me coffee, and crazy people seldom did any of that.

  “Ah. No ill effects from it, I hope?” he asked.

  “Not unless you call fifty-two elephants tap-dancing in combat boots while bouncing anvils on my brain an ill effect,” I said, gazing longingly at the bottle of ibuprofen.

  “No more,” May said, moving it out of my reach. “You’ll poison yourself if you take any more.” I sipped my coffee with obnoxious noisiness as punishment for her hard-heartedness.

  “I’m afraid there is little I can do for a headache.” He nodded toward the man with him. “Tipene, when we are done here, e-mail Dr. Kostich and let him know his apprentice has recovered.” The second man was also black, but with much shorter dreadlocks. He nodded. Beneath the light-colored T-shirt he wore, I could see thick black curved lines that indicated he bore rather detailed tribal tattoos across his chest.

  “We were just having some coffee while waiting for lunch,” May continued, smiling up at the first man. “Ysolde says her brain is a bit fuzzy still.” “Not so fuzzy that I can’t correct something that’s seriously wrong,” I said, setting my cup down. I addressed the man who stood next to May. “I assume you’re Gabriel Tao… Tow…” “Tauhou,” he said, his eyes narrowed as he searched my face.

  “Sorry, I have the memory of maple syrup when it comes to people’s names. I was trying to tell your… er…” I waved vaguely toward May.

  “Mate,” he said.

  “Quite.” I didn’t even blink over the odd word to use for a partner. What people called their significant others in the privacy of their own homes was not one iota my business. “I was just trying to tell her that I think you have me mistaken for someone else. My name isn’t Ysolde. It’s Tully, Tully Sullivan.” “Indeed,” he said politely, taking the seat that May had been using. She perched on the arm of the chair instead, not touching him, but I could sense the electricity between them.

  “I’m an apprentice mage,” I explained. “You mentioned contacting Dr. Kostich — I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you that you’ve got me confused with someone else.” “Whether or not you are a mage remains to be seen. That you are Kostich’s apprentice, we know. You were introduced to us by him almost two months ago, when you came to the home of the green wyvern to prevent an attack.” “Wyvern?” The word was mentioned earlier, but it took until now to sink in through the fog wrapped around my brain. If it meant what I thought it did, it would go a long way to explaining their odd behavior. “The kind that are… oh! That’s why you mentioned dragons. You’re them, right? Dragons?” “My father is a dragon, and May is my mate,” Gabriel said, taking May’s hand. “Tipene is also a silver dragon, as is Maata, whom you will meet shortly. As, I need not say, are you.” I would have laughed, but my brain was still slogging along at a snail’s pace. I gave him what I hoped was a jaunty little smile, instead. No wonder they seemed to be so very odd — they were dragons! “You know, in a way this is very exciting. I’ve never met a dragon before. I’ve heard about you, of course. Who hasn’t? But I can assure you that I am not one of you. Not that there’s anything wrong with, you know, being an animal. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I’m sure some very nice people are dragons. I just don’t happen to know any other than you guys, and I just met you. Oh, hell. I’m babbling again, aren’t I?” “Yes,” Kaawa said. “But that is all right. We understand.” “Do you?” I asked hopefully. “Good, because I don’t understand anything since I woke up, not the least of which is why you’d think I was the same as you.” “You are Ysolde de Bouchier, silver dragon, and mate to Baltic, who used to be wyvern of the black dragons,” Kaawa said, her gaze seeming to strip away all my defense
s and leave my soul bare. I squirmed in my chair, uncomfortable with her intense regard.

  “I think I would know if I was a fire-breathing shape-shifter with a love of gold,” I said gently, not wanting to upset her because she seemed rather nice, if a bit odd. I racked my sluggish brain to remember everything I knew about dragons. “I’m afraid I don’t even know much about you folk, although there’s been some talk of you lately at the mages’ commune, since Dr. Kostich has been forced into dealing with an uncontrollable, irresponsible wyvern’s mate who evidently is also a demon lord. But other than that — sorry. I’m afraid you have me mixed up with someone else.” Doubt was evident on May’s face as she glanced down at Gabriel. “Could you be wrong?” she asked.

  He looked thoughtful as his mother shook her head. “I am not wrong,” Kaawa said with determination. “Although I have seen Ysolde de Bouchier only once before, the image of her is burned into my memory for all time. You are Ysolde.” I rubbed my forehead, suddenly tired despite my five-week sleep. “I don’t know what I can say to prove I am who I am. You can ask Dr. Kostich. You can ask the other apprentices. I’m human. My name is Tully. I live in Spain with my son, husband, and sister-in-law.” “Husband?” Surprise showed in Gabriel’s eyes for a few minutes before turning to amusement. “You’re married and you have a child?” “Yes, I do, and I have to say that I don’t at all see what’s so funny about having a family,” I said, frowning a little at the man named Tipene as he chuckled to himself.

  “Nothing is funny about it,” May said, but even she looked like she was struggling to keep from laughing. “It’s just that Baltic is kind of volatile, and when he finds out that his precious Ysolde is alive with a husband and child… well, to be honest, he’s going to go ballistic.” “That’s tough toenails for him, but since I’m not his precious Ysolde, I don’t particularly care.” “I think the time will come when you will care very much,” Gabriel said, still amused.

  “Doubtful. I have this policy about not wasting time on people who are big pains in the ass, and he sounds like a major one. Oh!” I grimaced. “He’s not… er… a friend of yours, is he? If that major pain in the ass comment was out of line, I apologize.” May choked on the sip of coffee she was taking. Gabriel helpfully pounded her on her back while saying, “No, he is no friend to silver dragons.” “Gotcha,” I said lightly as I got to my feet. “This has been a really… special… experience, but I should be on my way. Thank you for the coffee, and for taking care of me while I was out of things. I appreciate it, but my son has been left alone far too long, and I really need to get him from the neighbor who’s been taking care of him.” “I don’t think it’s a very good idea for you to leave just yet,” May said slowly as she and Gabriel exchanged yet another of those knowing glances.

  “Look, you seem nice and all, but I’m getting tired of saying that I’m not this person you think I am—” I started to say.

  “No, I meant that given your physical state, it would be best for you to stay here for a few days,” she interrupted.

  “My physical state? You mean the fugue?” I asked.

  “Is that what you call it?”

  “That’s how the psychiatrist I saw referred to it. I assure you that although the fugues are inconvenient for everyone, once they are over, I’m fine. A little headachy, but nothing serious.” “You saw a psychiatrist about these… fugues?” Kaawa asked, her dark eyes watching me carefully.

  “Well… yes. Once. I didn’t know what happened to me, and thought…” I sat down again, biting my lip, hesitant to tell them I had thought I was going crazy. “Let’s just say I was concerned about what was causing me to have them.” “What was the judgment of the psychiatrist?” Gabriel asked, also making me uncomfortable with his unwavering gaze.

  I shrugged. “I only saw him once. Gareth didn’t like me going to him.” “Gareth is your husband?” May asked.

  “Yes.” I tried to make a light little laugh, growing more and more uncomfortable in the situation. “Why do I feel like I’m playing twenty questions?” “I’m sorry if it appears we’re grilling you,” May said with a tight little smile of her own. “It’s just that you took us all by surprise, and now even more so.” “If you can tolerate another question…,” Kaawa said, moving over to sit next to me. I shifted on the couch to give her room, the hairs on my arms pricking at her nearness. There was something about her, some aura that led me to believe she was not a woman who tolerated either fools or lies. “When did you see the psychiatrist?” I stared at her in surprise. “Er… when?” She nodded, watching me with that same intent gaze.

  “Well, let me think… it was… um…” I stared at my fingers, trying to sort through my memories to find the one I wanted, but it wasn’t there. “I don’t seem to recall.” “A month ago? Two months ago? A year? Five years?” she asked.

  “I don’t… I’m not sure,” I said, feeling as lame as I sounded.

  “Let me ask you this, then — what is your earliest memory?” I really stared at her now. “Huh? Why would you want to know something unimportant like that?” She smiled, and I felt suddenly bathed in a warm, golden glow of caring. “Do my questions disturb you, child?” “No, not disturb, I just don’t see what this has to do with anything. I really have to go. My son—” “—will be all right for another few minutes.” She waited, and I glanced around the room. The other three dragons sat watching me silently, evidently quite happy to let Kaawa conduct this strange interview. I gave a mental sigh. “Let’s see… earliest memory. I assume you mean as a child.” “Yes. What is the first thing you remember? Your mother’s voice, perhaps? A favorite toy? Something that frightened you?” Supposing it wouldn’t hurt to humor her, I poked again at the black mass that was my memory. Nothing was forthcoming. “I’m afraid I have a really crappy memory. I can’t remember anything as a child.” She nodded again, just as if she expected that. “Your son is only nine, you said. You must remember the day you gave birth to him.” “Of course I do—” I stopped when, to my horror, I realized I didn’t. I could see his face in my mind’s eye, but it was his face now, not his face as an infant. Panic swamped me. “By the rood! I don’t remember it!” “By the rood?” May asked.

  I stared at her in confusion, my skin crawling with the realization that something was seriously wrong with me. “What?” “You said ‘by the rood.’ That’s an archaic term, isn’t it?” “How the hell do I know?” I said, my voice rising. “I’m having a mental breakdown, and you’re worried about some silly phrase? Don’t you understand?” I leaped to my feet, grabbing the collar of May’s shirt and shaking it. “I don’t remember Brom’s first word. I don’t remember the first time he walked, or even what he looked like as a baby. I don’t remember any of it!” “Do you remember marrying your husband?” Kaawa asked as May gently pried my hands from her shirt.

  Goose bumps prickled up my arms. I prodded, I poked, I mentally grabbed my memory with both hands and shook it like it was a brainy piñata, but nothing came out. “No,” I said, the word a whisper as fear replaced the panic. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I remember anything?” “It is as I thought,” Kaawa said, taking my chin between the tips of her fingers so she could search my eyes. “Your memory has been expunged.” “Why would someone do that?” I asked, the words a near wail as I fought the desire to race out of the house and onto the first plane to Spain. “Did you do this to me?” “No, child,” she said solemnly, releasing my chin. “I suspect you have been conditioned to forget.” “Conditioned to forget my own son? That doesn’t make any sense! Who would want me to forget him?” “It’s all right, Ysolde. Er… Tully,” May said in a soothing voice, gently guiding me back to the couch. “I know you’re scared by all this, but you talked to your son earlier, remember? You said he was all right.” I clung to that, fighting the rising fear that threatened to overwhelm me. “Yes, he was all right, although I really need to go home. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here any longer.” I made it all the way to the door before Kaawa’
s voice reached me.

  “And what will you do if you have another fugue while your son is with you?” I froze at that, turning slowly to face the room of people. “I only have them once a year. I believe I mentioned that.” “You told your son that you didn’t know why you had it now. That was what you were referring to, wasn’t it?” I nodded, my shoulders slumping. “I shouldn’t have had it until the end of October.” “And yet you had it now.”

  “But, Kaawa, that was—” May started to say.

  The older woman raised her hand, and May stopped.

  “I’ve only ever had them once a year,” I told them all. “This was an anomaly. I don’t know why it came early, but I’m sure it won’t happen again.” “How can you be sure? You can’t, not really. There is nothing to stop you from having another one right now, or an hour from now, or a week from now, is there?” Kaawa insisted.

  I gritted my teeth in acknowledgment.

  “What if you were driving a car with your son and you were suddenly sent into a fugue?” “That would be very unlikely—”

  “But it could happen,” she pressed. “Would you risk his life?” “It’s never happened like this before,” I said, but the horrible ideas she was presenting couldn’t be denied. The fugue shouldn’t have happened now, but it did. What if it came again, while I was with Brom? My gut tightened at all the terrifying possibilities of disaster.