Dragon's Oath (House of Night Novella Series #1)

Dragon's Oath (House of Night Novella Series #1)

by P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast

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Overview

The first in an enthralling new mini-series of novellas from the #1 bestselling authors of the House of Night, Dragon's Oath tells the story behind the House of Night's formidable fencing instructor – the love that will transform him, and the promise that will haunt him

In early 19th century England, long before he's a professor at the Tulsa House of Night, Bryan Lankford is a troublesome yet talented human teen who thinks he can get away with anything… until his father, a wealthy nobleman, has finally had enough, and banishes him to America. When Bryan is Marked on the docks and given the choice between the London House of Night and the dragon-prowed ship to America, he chooses the Dragon – and a brand new fate.

Becoming a Fledgling may be exciting, but it opens a door to a dangerous world.... In 1830's St. Louis, the Gateway to the West, Dragon Lankford becomes a Sword Master, and soon realizes there are both frightening challenges and beautiful perks. Like Anastasia, the captivating young Professor of Spells and Rituals at the Tower Grove House of Night, who really should have nothing to do with a fledgling…

But when a dark power threatens, Dragon is caught in its focus. Though his uncanny fighting skills make him a powerful fledgling, is he strong enough to ward off evil, while protecting Anastasia as well? Will his choices save her—or destroy them all?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429995849
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2011
Series: House of Night Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 201,275
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

P.C. Cast is an award-winning fantasy and paranormal romance author, as well as an experienced speaker and teacher. With her daughter Kristin Cast, she is the author of the House of Night novels, including Awakened, Burned and Hunted. Cast was born in the Midwest, and as a girl fell in love with mythology. After high school, she joined the U.S. Air Force, then taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. Cast's novels are New York Times bestsellers and have been awarded the Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers' Best, and the Laurel Wreath. Ms. Cast lives in Oklahoma, where she is a member of the Oklahoma Writers' Hall of Fame. She splits her time between her ranch and midtown Tulsa where she has a home just down the street from the House of Night...

Kristin Cast is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who teams with her mother to write the House of Night series. She has stand-alone stories in several anthologies, as well as editorial credits. Currently Kristin attends college in Oklahoma where she is focusing on attaining her dream of opening a no kill dog rescue shelter in midtown Tulsa.


P.C. Cast is the author of the House of Night novels, including Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, and Untamed.

Ms. Cast is a #1 New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling author and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. With more than 20 million copies in print in over 40 countries, her novels have been awarded the prestigious Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers’ Best, and the Laurel Wreath.

Ms. Cast was born in the Midwest and grew up being shuttled back and forth between Illinois and Oklahoma, which is where she fell in love with Quarter Horses and mythology. After high school she joined the United States Air Force and began public speaking and writing. After her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. She now lives in Oregon surrounded by beloved cats, dogs, horses, and family.


Kristin Cast is a #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestselling author who teams with her mother to write the wildly successful HOUSE OF NIGHT series. She has editorial credits, a thriving t-shirt line, and a passion for all things paranormal. When away from her writing desk, Kristin loves going on adventures with her friends, family, and significant other, playing with her dogs (Grace Kelly and Hobbs the Tiny Dragon), and is obsessed with her baby.

Read an Excerpt

Dragon's Oath


By P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast, Kim Doner

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2011 P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9584-9


CHAPTER 1

Present-day Oklahoma

Anger and confusion stirred within Dragon Lankford. Was Neferet truly taking her leave of them so soon after the death of the boy and their goddess's cataclysmic visit?

"Neferet, what of the fledgling's body? Should we not continue to hold vigil?" With an effort, Dragon Lankford kept his voice calm and his tone even as he addressed his High Priestess.

Neferet turned her beautiful emerald eyes to him. She smiled smoothly. "You are right to remind me, Sword Master. Those of you who honored Jack with purple spirit candles, throw them on the pyre as you leave. The Sons of Erebus Warriors will hold vigil over the poor fledgling's body for the remainder of the night."

"As you wish, Priestess." Dragon bowed deeply to her, wondering why his skin felt so itchy—almost as if he was covered in dirt and grime. He had a sudden inexplicable desire to bathe in very, very hot water. It is Neferet, his conscience spoke softly to him. She has not been right since Kalona broke free of the earth. You used to feel that ...

Dragon shook his head and set his jaw. Peripheral events did not matter. Feelings were no longer important. Duty was all encompassing—vengeance was utmost. Focus! I must keep my mind on the job at hand! he commanded himself, and then nodded quickly to specific Warriors. "Disperse the crowd!"

Neferet paused to speak to Lenobia before she departed from the center of the campus and headed in the direction of the professors' living quarters. Dragon barely spared her a look. Instead, his attention was pulled back to the fiery pyre and the boy's flaming body.

"The crowd is being dispersed, Sword Master. How many of us shall remain to watch by the pyre with you?" asked Christophe, one of his senior officers.

Dragon hesitated before he answered, taking a moment to center himself as well as to absorb the fact that the fledglings and professors who were milling uncertainly around the brightly burning pyre were obviously agitated and thoroughly upset. Duty. When all else fails, turn to duty!

"Have two of the guards escort the professors back to their quarters. The rest of you are to go with the fledglings. Be quite certain they all return to their rooms. Then stay close to the dormitories for the remainder of this terrible night." Dragon's voice was rough with emotion. "The students need to feel the protective presence of their Sons of Erebus Warriors so that they can, at least, be certain of their safety, even if it seems they can be certain of little else."

"But the child's pyre–"

"I will stay with Jack." Dragon spoke in a tone that allowed no interference. "I shall not leave the boy's side until the red glow of his embers turns to rust. Do your duty, Christophe; the House of Night needs you. I will see to the sadness that remains here."

Christophe bowed and then began calling out commands, following the Sword Master's orders with cold efficiency.

It seemed only seconds had passed when Dragon realized he was alone. There was the sound of the burning pyre—the deceptively soothing pop and crackle of the fire. Except for that, there was only the night and the vast emptiness in Dragon's heart.

The Sword Master stared into the flames as if he could discover the balm that would soothe his pain within them. The fire flickered amber and gold, rust and red, reminding Dragon of a delicate piece of jewelry—unique, exquisite, tied to a strand of velvet ribbon the color of fresh blood ...

As if moving of its own accord, his hand went into his pocket. His fingers closed around the oval disk he found there. It was slim and smooth. He could feel only the faintest hint of the bluebird that once had been etched so clearly and beautifully on its face. The golden piece rested snugly in his hand. He cupped it, protected it, held it, before he slowly drew out his hand, the locket nestled within it. Dragon twined the velvet ribbon through his fingers, rubbing it with his thumb in a familiar, absentminded motion that spoke more of habit than thought. Expelling a deep breath that sounded more sob than sigh, he opened his palm and looked down.

The light from Jack's pyre flitted across the locket's golden surface. It caught the bluebird design.

"Missouri's state bird." Dragon spoke aloud. His voice was devoid of emotion, though the hand that held the locket shook. "I wonder if you can still be found wild, perching in the sunflowers that overlook the river. Or did your beauty and those of the flowers die out, too, along with everything else lovely and magickal in this world?" His hand closed on the locket, gripping it so tightly his knuckles turned white.

And then, as quickly as his fist had closed, Dragon released his hold on the locket, opening his hand and turning the gold oval over and over reverently. "Fool!" His voice was ragged. "You could have broken it!" Trembling fingers fumbled with the clasp, but when he finally unlatched it the golden piece opened easily, unharmed, to display the tiny etching that, although faded by time, still showed the smiling face of the petite vampyre whose gaze seemed to catch and hold his.

"How can you be gone?" Dragon murmured. One finger traced the old portrait on the right side of the locket, and then moved to the left half of the piece of jewelry to stroke the single blond curl that nestled there over the empty space where his youthful picture had once been. His gaze turned from the locket up to the night sky and he repeated the question louder, from his soul, crying out for an answer. "How can you be gone?"

As if in response Dragon heard echoing in the night air the distinctive croaking caw of a raven.

Anger rushed through Dragon, so hard and hot that his hands once again trembled—only this time he did not shake with pain and loss; he shook with the barely controlled need to strike out, to maim, to avenge.

"I will avenge her." Dragon's voice was like death. He looked down at the locket again and spoke to the shimmering blond curl it held. "Your dragon will avenge you. I will set to right what I allowed to go wrong. I will not make the same mistake again, my love, my own. The creature will not go unpunished. On that I pledge to you my oath."

A gust of wind, hot from the pyre, blew suddenly strong. It lifted the lock of hair and, while Dragon fumbled unsuccessfully to stop it, the curl floated out of his reach up, up, up on the heated draft, almost feather-like. It hovered there and then, with a sound much like a woman's gasp of surprise, the hot wind changed, inhaling, drawing the lock of hair down into the fiery pyre where it was turned to smoke and memory.

"No!" Dragon cried, falling to his knees with a sob. "And now I've lost the last of you. My fault ...," he said brokenly. "My fault, just as your death was my fault."

Through the tears that filled his eyes Dragon watched the smoke from his beloved mate's lock of hair whirl and dance before him—and then begin to shimmer magickally, changing from smoke to a dusting of green and yellow and brown sparkles that continued to curl around and around until they began to separate and form distinct parts of an image: the green sparkles became a long, thick stem—the yellow delicate petals of a flower with the brown circling within them to become its center.

Dragon wiped his eyes clear of tears, hardly able to believe what he was seeing. "A sunflower?" His lips felt as numb with shock as his brain. It is her flower! his mind shouted. It must be a sign from her! "Anastasia!" Dragon cried as numbness gave way to a terrible, wonderful wave of hope. "Are you here, my own?"

The image of the shimmering sunflower began to waver and change. The yellow flowed down in a cascade that became golden blond. The brown lightened to the color of sun-kissed skin, and the green melted down within the skin, swirling and morphing into shining orbs that became eyes that were turquoise and familiar and dear.

"Oh, goddess, Anastasia! It is you!" Dragon's voice broke as he reached out for her. But the image lifted–a glowing tease just beyond his fingertips. He cried out in frustration and then stifled the sound of his misery as his mate's voice began to spill around him like a musical stream over water-worn pebbles. Dragon held his breath and listed to the ghostly message.

I've bespelled this locket, for you: my own, my mate.
The day has come when death forced us to part.
You must know that for you, forever, I shall wait.
So until we meet again I hold your love safely within my heart.
Remember, your oath was to temper strength with mercy.
No matter how long apart we shall be, I hold you to that oath
eternally ... eternally ...


The image smiled once at him before it lost its form and returned to smoke and then nothingness.

"My oath!" Dragon shouted, surging to his feet. "First Nyx and now you reminding me of it. Do you not understand that it is because of that cursed oath that you are dead? Had I chosen differently those many years ago, perhaps I could have kept all of this from happening. Strength tempered by mercy was a mistake. Do you not remember, my own? Do you not remember? I do. I will never forget ..."

As Dragon Lankford, Sword Master of the House of Night, held vigil over the body of a fallen fledgling, he stared into the burning pyre and let the flames take him back so that he could relive the pain and the pleasure—the tragedy and the triumph—of a past that had shaped such a heartbreaking future.

CHAPTER 2

1830 England


"Father, you cannot disown me and banish me to the Americas. I am your son!" Bryan Lankford, third son to the Earl of Lankford, shook his head and stared disbelievingly at his father.

"You are my third son. I have four others, two older and two younger. None of them are as troublesome as are you. Their existence and your behavior make it quite simple for me to do this to you."

Bryan ignored the shock and panic his father's words threatened to break loose within him. He forced himself to relax–to slouch nonchalantly against the wooden door to the stall closest to him as he beamed the Bryan Lankford smile at the Earl, that disarmingly handsome grin that women found irresistible and made them want to seduce him, and men found charming and made them want to be like him.

The Earl's dark, unchanging expression said that he was well aware of the Bryan Lankford smile—and utterly unaffected by it.

"My decision is final, boy. Do not disgrace yourself further by unsuitable begging."

"Begging!" Bryan felt familiar anger stir. Why must his father always belittle him? He'd never begged for anything in his life—he certainly was not going to start now, no matter the consequences. "I do not beg you, Father. I simply am trying to reason with you."

"Reason? Again you cause an embarrassment for me because of your temper and your sword, and you ask me to reason with you?"

"Father, it was only a small altercation, and with a Scotsman! I did not even kill him. In actuality I wounded his vanity more than his body." Bryan attempted a chuckle, but the sound was cut off by the return of the cough that had been plaguing him all that day, only this time it was followed by a wave of weakness. He was so distracted by the betrayal of his body that he put up no resistance at all when his father suddenly closed the distance between them and with one hand fisted the cravat at Bryan's throat, ramming him against the wall of the stable with such force that the little breath left in his body whooshed from him. With his other hand the Earl knocked the still-bloody sword from Bryan's failing grip.

"You blustering little braggart! That Scotsman is a border Laird. His lands adjoin mine, which you know, as you are aware that his daughter and her bed are within a short day's ride of our estate!" The Earl's face, flushed with anger, was so close to his son that his spittle rained over Bryan. "And now your impetuous actions have given this Laird all the proof he needs to go to our prattling fool of a new king and demand reparations for the loss of his daughter's maidenhead."

"Maidenhead!" Bryan managed to choke out. "Aileene's maidenhead was lost long before I found her."

"That is of no consequence!" The Earl tightened the strangle grip with which he held his son. "What is of consequence is that you were the dolt caught between her knees, and now that weakling king has all the excuse he needs to look the other way when thieving clansmen from the north sweep south looking for fat cattle to steal. Whose cattle do you think they will be after, son of mine?"

Bryan could only gasp for breath and shake his head.

With a look of utter contempt, the Earl of Lankford let loose his son, allowing him to fall, coughing violently, to the dirt floor of the stable. Then the nobleman motioned to the red-coated members of his personal guard who had been blandly watching his son's disgrace, singling out the pockmarked senior member of the squad. "Jeremy, as I already ordered, bind him like the miscreant he is. Choose two other men to accompany you. Take him to the port. Put him on the next ship to the Americas. I want never to see him again. He is no longer my son." Then he motioned at the stableman. "Bring my horse. I have wasted enough of my precious time on this foolishness."

"Father! Wait, I—," Bryan began, but another coughing fit cut off his words.

The Earl paused only long to look down his long nose at his son. "As I already explained, you are expendable and now you are no longer my concern. Take him away!"

"You cannot send me away like his!" he cried. "How will I live?"

His father jerked his chin at Bryan's sword, which lay in the dirt not far from him. It had been a gift from the Earl when his precocious son had turned thirteen, and even in the dim, dusty light of the stable the jewels that encrusted the hilt glistened. "Perhaps that will be of more use to you in your new life than it was to me in your old one. Allow him to take the sword," he addressed the guards, "and nothing else, with him! Bring me back the ship's name and its captain's mark as proof that he has left England—have him gone before sunrise tomorrow and there will be a purse of silver waiting to split between you," the older man said, and then strode to his waiting horse.

Bryan Lankford tried to shout at his father—to tell him how sorry he would be later, when he remembered that though his third son was, indeed, his most troublesome, he was also his most talented, intelligent, and interesting—but another coughing fit gripped the seventeen-year-old so thoroughly that he could only gasp helplessly and watch his father's horse gallop off. He couldn't even fight as he wished he could when the Earl's guard bound him, then dragged him through the dirt of the stables.

"It's about time a little crowing cock like you was brought low. Let's see how you like being common." Laughing sarcastically, Jeremy, the oldest and most pompous of Bryan's father's guards, tossed him into the back of a poultry cart, before bending to pick up Bryan's sword and, with a calculating look at its glittering hilt, shove it through his own waistcloth.

By the time Bryan reached the port it was dark, both in the world around him and within his heart. Not only had his father disowned him and cast him from his family and out of England, but it was becoming more and more clear that he was in the grip of some horrible plague. How soon would it kill him? Before he was free of this stinking dock, or would he die after being dragged onto one of the merchant ships that bobbed in the black water of the bay?

"I'll no be taking a coughing chit like this aboard." The ship's captain held his torch higher, examining the bound and coughing boy. "No." He scowled and shook his head. "He'll no be crossin' the waters wit' me."

"This is the Earl of Lankford's son. You'll take him or answer to His Lordship about why not," growled the Earl's senior guard.

"I don't see no earl here. I see a shit-spattered boy who's got the ague." The seaman spit in the sand. "And I won't be answering to anyone, 'specially no nonexistent earl, if I be dead from this brat's sickness."

Bryan tried to stifle his coughing—not to reassure the captain, but to rest the burning within his chest. He was holding his breath when the man stepped from the shadows, tall, lean, and dressed all in black, his pale skin in stark contrast to the darkness that seemed to surround him. Bryan blinked, wondering if his feverish gaze was deceiving him—was that truly a crescent moon tattooed in the middle of his forehead surrounded by more tattooing? His vision was blurry, but Bryan was almost certain the tattoos looked like crossed rapiers. Then reason caught up with vision and Bryan felt a jolt of recognition. A crescent moon and the surrounding tattoo could mean only one thing: the man was no man at all—he was a vampyre!


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dragon's Oath by P. C. Cast, Kristin Cast, Kim Doner. Copyright © 2011 P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Interviews

When + how did the two of you first meet?

PC: Kim's going to have to help me with this one! I think we met about fifteen years ago through our mutual friend, Teresa Miller. Tess is Director of the Center for Oklahoma Poets and Writers, and she is one of the reasons Tulsa has such a vibrant, well connected author/artist community. I can't remember which event it was. Maybe one of the Celebration of Books festivals? Kim? Help? I do remember having an instant connection with Kim, and we have been good friends ever since.
*As a side note here: Kim has been helping me brainstorm my way through plots of my novels for more than a decade. I cannot count the number of times I've been stuck in a plot corner, or confused about how a story should go, and I've gone to Kim's house, poured myself a glass (or three or four) of wine, and just started talking with Kim about a manuscript. Kim gets visual images when I tell stories, and she'll say, "Oh! Oh! Wait, I have an idea!" and then she'll describe to me what she's seeing. Many, many times her artist's eye has helped me find my way out of an author's dead end!

KIM: Oh, I DO remember, and you're right - it was at the OK Celebration of Books! We met at a sushi restaurant, as you were helping Tess host Janis Ian by rounding up a group of Tulsa writers/illustrators to have dinner with her. We got to talking that night, as well as during the rest of the conference, and I don't think I ever laughed as hard as when you told me all about a scene in a book you had just finished titled Goddess by Mistake. It later became Divine by Mistake, and fans will probably start grinning about now when I mention a certain red-tressed-Broken Arrow-English teacher who is swept into another world where she is cornered into ruling as their goddess... and meets her future mate, who happens to be a centaur...
And yes, PC has always been enthusiastically welcomed at our home with a hug and a choice - red or white? - while we toast to her characters and play with plots.

What is the creative process like while you’re illustrating the characters? How do you determine what they look like?

PC: For my part all I do is talk with Kim about the characters. It's very weird that what she sees in her head is so much like what I make up in my head.

KIM: PC is an expert in description, whether it ends up in the text or not. Many times, we simply chat about a scene or character, since we're so often on the same page (okay, a weak literary joke, but an accurate metaphor for the moment). We discovered we enjoyed (and enjoy!) many of the same genres and titles as kids, sometimes to the point we quote passages to each other from favorite scenes. It's a good mix: PC combines our shared literary history with contemporary celebrities (and their more popular roles) then throws in classic archetypes. The result gives me instant visual inspiration and, as her fans know, provides very accessible characters.

How do you decide which scenes [from the book] are illustrated?

PC: Kim and I discussed this chapter by chapter. Some of them were easy to decide on, like the illustration of the dragon ship. Some went through several incarnations, like the chapter that has the magickal wine illustration. That one started with cats, didn't it Kim? And also the chapter where you see Anastasia dancing. Kim gave me several ideas/choice for that one, too. But, basically, I bow to Kim's artistic eye. She's a talented professional, and when she "sees" a scene, it's usually the perfect one to bring alive.
KIM: I read the entire text first, just taking notes when the story arcs. Each scene emerges in my mind as a keyframe, like they do in movies; I ask, "What's the one illustrative moment that visually enhances this chapter best?" Sometimes there are several, and PC and our agent, Meredith Bernstein, will process with me to choose. Sometimes it's a no-brainer, an "Ah ha!" sort of moment, and I have no question in my mind's eye: "That's it. That's absolutely it."
The "magickal wine illustration" began with a cat reaching up to bat one of the emerging roses as it bloomed from the glass, but PC and Meredith's feedback was right - too cutesy, and detracting from the mystery of the moment. There are many times when working alone is great, and many when it's a drag; I can lose perspective without a trusted mirror. PC is my trusted mirror!

Do you communicate regularly throughout the illustration process?

PC: Yes! (Well, we communicate regularly because we're girlfriends anyway!) Kim and I talk about the chapters and then she shows me little tiny rough sketches that to her look like stick figures. To me they're better than anything I could draw, so I always think it's cool to see the "rough" work. Then I pick one of the sketches and Kim redoes it bigger and better. Then she shows it to me when it's still at the point she can use it but make changes/additions. Sometimes I ask her to add a detail - like on the ritual illustration I asked that we can see a little more of Anastasia and Dragon. Then, like magick, she finishes and they're lovely pieces of art!
KIM: Yes! (Remember - red or white?) :)). I also like to sneak in little bits of PC and her life if I can. In The Fledgling Handbook, she had just gotten back from visiting Scotland and had a pair of rocks from an ancient queen's cairn, so I put them in the big illustration for the Dark Daughters. She also has a dragon tattoo on her back, and I used elements of that for Dragon's page at the end of Dragon's Oath. Those facts are for hard-core fans, but hey! They're fun to know, right?
As for beginnings, I do start out with these really rough, quickie sketches called "thumbnails" for my future finished pieces. I've always shared those embarrassing, amateur-looking beginnings with PC; she's such fun because she's totally behind me and enthusiastic and tickled, so I get twice as inspired talking it over with her. Then she claps and squeals and is delighted with the finals, so I think I've upped Leonardo or something. It's great.

How many iterations do you normally go through until the character looks "just right"?

KIM: Oh, wow, that's a hard question. Sometimes I get lucky, and I nail the character the first sketch and can develop a second, more formal drawing, then transfer to the final. This happens, um, maybe once in a blue moon?
The rest of the time, it's usually 5-6 sketches before the final, but it's not unheard of for it to be 10 or more. If I'm illustrating a children's book and the character is seen in several scenes, I really work hard to keep him/her consistent; that's probably the greatest challenge.

Kim – how much research do you do before sketching the scenes?

KIM: I know it's unoriginal to say "It depends," but it really does. If my character is from another era, I research clothing and hair styles; if I am to represent them in a medium common to their time, I might study block prints or marble statues. I really like to have a sense of authenticity to a character - I'll download tons of images from the internet, just for studies; I'll kidnap friends and have them play dress up and take photographs (which I share with no one, so they don't have to worry). For backgrounds, I'll look at a country's architecture, history, and culture, which I did a lot in The Fledgling Handbook 101. For Dragon's Oath, I kept in mind that the vampyres slept during the day, so the scenes needed to be drawn as if they were happening at night or, at the latest, the very beginning of dawn.
When I read Dragon's Oath for the first time, I read it purely for the pleasure of enjoying the story itself; as an ardent HON fan, I already knew of Dragon's loss from the series, so this novella added dimension and richness to his tale. The second time I read the story, I allowed myself to picture each scene in my mind - and I took notes about it. These characters may be nearly immortal, but they are at the beginning of such immortality and, therefore, they are like any other young couple.
PC and I discussed how she saw them physically - vibrant, playful, Anastasia with thick blonde hair down to her waist, Dragon with "attitude" and lithe physique. In her story, their courtship is charming, and their first kiss full of the magic (or, as PC Cast says, "magick") anyone would want to experience. I wanted to capture all of this.
Part of magic is often found in the moments where things are not said, when gestures are suspended for a moment in reality... but forever in a heart. I wanted to create that moment for these characters, to trace their body language and show the second they begin to fall in love.
To execute this, I toyed with using hands - those revealing appendages we should watch (more than eyes) if we want information. I wanted them "touching-but-not-touching", intimate, an unspoken promise. Above all, I wanted it to show defenses lowered in a subtle way.
These are a few of the sketches I made: him approaching from behind her, sword down; her handing him a sunflower; her beginning to lift the face of a sunflower up towards him. But these weren't quite where I wanted to go.

I wanted more of their symbols integrated into the piece: his sword, her flower. Finally, I put it all together, and after a few more thumbnails, drew this sketch:

With PC's approval, I then "cast" the scene. I had my husband stand by a friend, and at the last second, decided to photograph it near sunset. My thought was that these characters could be walking, side by side, as the sun either rose or set before them - an added romantic touch, instead of having them with the nighttime backdrop. Here's the photograph:

With a few alterations - matching Dragon's sword with the one on the cover, cropping and changing clothing some, and making Anastasia's hand that of a girl rather than a more mature woman - I completed the illustration now in the book.
It's my favorite, too - his sword is lowered, but in front of them to defend her in an instant. Her flower is held back, slightly behind her skirt, waiting to be brought forth.
This is how they live for me.


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