“What can I get you?” the barmaid behind the counter asked.
“Can you toss together a Dragon’s Lick?” Tremayne queried, setting his tricorn hat on the battered bar. He leaned an elbow on it as well, giving her his best grin.
She tilted her head. Looked him over from tousled black hair to long skirted coat, took in the evening tundra on his jaw, the strength of his throat, bared because he hadn’t bothered to lace his shirt, which meant a meadow of dark curls was also available for viewing on his chest. The bar itself kept her from taking in the dark trousers shoved into jackboots. Then her gaze went back to the smoked lenses of the glasses that hid his eyes. Not surprising considering a storm cloud covered sky made for brighter lighting than the token lanterns hanging from the rafters supplied. But she didn’t question why he was wearing them inside, or at night. Instead, she queried his choice of poison.
“That’s a lethal cocktail. You sure you’re up to downing it?”
“Absolutely,” Tremayne said. “I’ve acquired the taste for it as well as the constitution to put up with the effects.”
She shrugged. The gesture made the already slipping sleeve of her smock dip a bit lower. He wondered whether she’d done it on purpose or was unaware of the rearrangement. He was, after all, the best-looking patron in the place. It was a fact, not his inflated ego.
Well, not all his ego.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you in here before,” she said, setting a pewter tankard before him. The liquid in it sizzled and frothed like a dragon had hit it with a blast of flame. The effect would have been more impressive in a crystal goblet, but this wasn’t the sort of place that catered to fine stemware.
“For the very good reason that I’ve never been here before.” He lifted the drink. Savored it. Closed his eyes briefly as the burn stroked a path down his throat. Pure acid. Beautiful.
“What brings you in tonight?” the barmaid asked. “Just passing through or new to this county?”
“Not terribly new to the neighborhood.” Though he knew she was. “But usually I don’t need anything a town or village can supply.”
“Other than a flagon of Dragon’s Lick?”
“And a few other things.”
She tilted her head. Long black hair swung to the side. He’d already admired the waist brushing length of it when she turned away to fix his drink. Her eyes were unrelieved granite, but her skin was pale for a country girl.
“Then you came to town for a specific reason. Mind if I ask what it is?”
“Actually, you might be interested in the position,” he said.
“You’re in need of a barmaid?”
“In need of a mother for my children.”
“Your children. How many of them are there?”
“Currently, none. But I’m the last of my line, therefore the burden of supply falls to me.” Tremayne made it sound like a monstrous burden.
Her midnight mane rippled with movement as she shook her head. “Sorry, bucko, but I’m not hunting for a husband currently.”
“And I didn’t say I was interested in acquiring a wife,” he reminded. “No need to sully things with something like marriage.”
“Without it your nonexistent children will be bastards then.”
“I’ve no problem with that. My parents weren’t married either, merely mated. Worked fine for them.”
“I’m still not interested,” she insisted. “Take a look around the room and see if you spot any likely brood mares. I’ll introduce you to them.”
He did a half turn. There weren’t many females in the tavern. To look over the available stock, he slid his glasses down his long nose and looked over the top of them. There was a red cheeked blonde heifer over by the hearth where a fire burned low, and in a far corner a withered apple of a crone.
When he turned back to her, the barmaid stared at his eyes before he slid the spectacles back in place, which was exactly what he’d wanted her to do.
“No, sorry,” Tremayne said. “Neither of them will do. Bessy by the fireplace would flatten my offspring if she tripped and fell on them, and I’d hurt myself on Wanda’s hip bones. Besides, I think she’s past her prime. Looks like you’ll have to do.”
The barmaid wasn’t listening though. “Your eyes,” she murmured. “They’re—”
“Different?” he offered. “Family trait.” In point of fact, they are a deep amber and split vertically like a serpent’s. Hence the need for the smoked lens. “Not all the offspring get the mark, but most do.”
“Anything else a woman should know before deciding whether to apply for the position of mother to your children? Not every maiden in the village is here tonight.”
“Obviously,” he said, then pretended to be nervous about any further disclosure. “Yes, there is something that might be of consideration. There are assassins hunting me. That’s part of the reason why I’d like to settle the matter of offspring quickly.”
“Assassins! What did you do?” she demanded. “You have the look of a highwayman to me.”
“No, I’m not a gentleman of the road. It’s not so much what I might have done, merely who I am that got a couple of people riled up.”
“Are you the heir to a fortune that a relative wants dispatched?”
“Nothing quite so theatrical,” Tremayne said. “There’s probably no danger to the mother of my children, and the youngsters won’t be a problem as long as the assassins don’t know they exist.”
“But you aren’t talking one child but more than one, which would require years of toil and danger. What happens to them and the mother if the assassins find you?”
“Not a bridge to build much less cross until I find my lucky lady. Are you positive you aren’t interested in the proposition?”
When she didn’t answer, he added an incentive. “Throw in with me and you won’t have to tend bar anymore.”
“Just make Dragon’s Lick cocktails for you?”
“Well, for yourself, too, if you’ve a taste for them. But I promise no nappies to launder, no meals to cook, no house to clean. I’ve got people who do those sorts of things.”
“I might have a trunk or so of bobbles in my horde,” Tremayne confessed then reached in his coat pocket and extracted a vial with golden toned liquid in it. “Plus, there’s this. You’ll like it. It makes you fly.”
“Drinking Dragon’s Lick isn’t enough for you?” she demanded, but her eyes were on the vial as he rocked it back and forth between his fingers. “What is that?”
He glanced at the small glass container, then back to her. “Elixir, of course. Brewed in the laboratory of a well-known alchemist. You might have heard of him. Newton’s his name. And he’s a hell of a hand at concocting substances that do wonders.”
“Like cure plague victims?”
Tremayne pshawed. “We aren’t in the dark ages anymore, sweetling. It’s the 18th century! Now, are you interested in joining me at my camp outside of town once the last drunk has stumbled home or not?”
Despite her earlier reluctance, he knew the hook was set deep. She was picturing gold and jewels, servants, elixirs pagan shamen would sacrifice someone else’s body parts to enjoy, and…well, himself. Being dashing, virile, and wealthy, he was quite a catch for her sort. She was not, after all, a country girl. He’d recognized what she was by the scents that clung to her, masked as they were by the vapors rising from his tankard.
Besides, what woman wouldn’t want a bloke capable of downing as potent a cocktail as a Dragon’s Lick and still be able to walk rather than stumble out the door?
“Well?” Tremayne pushed when she didn’t answer.
She sighed deeply. “I am weary of catering to a room full of drunken fools. Alright, I’ll meet you at your camp, but just to discuss the details involved. I promise nothing.”
He grinned widely, flashing well-kept ivories that might have glinted as the nearest lantern flame danced in an accommodating direction. “Lovely,” he murmured. “By the way, the name’s Tremayne.” Which his name definitely was not.
“I am Molly,” she said, though he knew that was not her name either. Nor was keeping bar her true profession. She was playing to the audience and that was all he required for his purposes.
He supplied directions and suggested she bring along a flagon or two more of Dragon’s Lick. “Discussions can be thirst creating, after all,” he added then left her to her evening labors.
~ ~ ~
The fire nibbled away at the deadfall he’d gathered in the nearest wood and the moon was high in the firmament when she arrived at his campsite. Tremayne was pleased to find two flagons of Dragon’s Lick in her hands. He got to his feet. Relieved her of her burden and settled her upwind from any smoke the licking flames produced, then dropped down next to her. Close to her.
“Tempt you with a taste of Newton’s best?” he asked, holding the vial of golden promise up. The dancing glow of the fire enhanced the color, made it gleam in a mesmerizing way. “You won’t regret it.”
“Alright,” she said and, after he removed the stopper, took it from him. “Does one merely sniff it, allow but a drop on the tongue?”
“If one is brave, one downs it in one,” Tremayne said, though what he downed was half a flagon of Dragon’s Lick. Something new had been added to it. He smiled at her effort to incapacitate him. It did add a nice kick to the drink. Not that many would feel an extra jolt was required.
“That sounds like a challenge,” she returned. “Is it one?”
“It is whatever you wish it to be, sweetling,” he murmured, and had a bit more Dragon’s Lick. “I must say, you do make a damn fine cocktail.”
With the compliment ringing in her ears, she tossed the elixir off and handed the empty vial back to him. “How long until I feel as though I’m flying?” she asked.
“Depends on your constitution, but usually not long at all.”
“It is very tasty,” she allowed.
“Care for another?” As though by magic, a second vial with a golden cast materialized between his fingers.
She savored it more slowly, then turned bright eyes to him. “You’re still wearing your spectacles. Does the firelight bother your eyes?”
“Not a bit,” Tremayne answered. “Not everyone is comfortable with their configuration though. If you are, I’ll remove them.” Which he then did, slipping them into his coat pocket.
“Is that why you drink Dragon’s Lick cocktails? Because people compare your eyes to those of a reptile?”
He shrugged. “No, just part of my disguise,” he admitted, then daringly brushed a hand over her tumbling locks. “How are you feeling?”
She chuckled, her voice low, throaty. “Not like I’m flying,” she said. “You lied about that.”
“Actually, no I didn’t. You just aren’t there yet. Another one?”
Again, the vial appeared as if magicked into his hand. Into her hand. She didn’t hesitate but made the concoction vanish and licked a drop from her top lip when it was empty. Then she toppled over.
Tremayne stripped her hidden dagger from her. A nasty piece with a serpent shaped blade capable of killing large, fire spitting prey. Tossed it in the fire and added a splat of acid to consume it. As it bubbled and melted, he sipped at the second flagon she’d supplied and waited for the elixir to do as intended. Watched the stars travel across the night sky. The moon dip into the western sea, then he reverted to his true form, nudged her awake as the sun crested and taught her to fly. Took her to the uppermost edge of the atmosphere where breathing was difficult, locked talons and went into the exhilaration of a death spiral, wings extended yet gravity more than air currents in control. He broke off before death was inevitable and took her to his home. Three times he guided her toward the stars; three times enjoyed the fall to near death.
And he stayed alert for word of the assassins.
When he had of her what he required, Tremayne took her back to the campsite. Left her drowsing while he returned to the tavern. The owner manned the counter when he strolled up to it, placed his tricorn on the bar and took a sociable stance.
“What will ye have, sir,” the man asked.
“Can you do a Dragon’s Lick?”
The man shook his head. “You’re not the first customer to request one today,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the recipe for the Lick isn’t one I’ve ever learned. Used to have a girl who did ‘em but she ran off awhile ago. I’ve a decent ale on tap though.”
“Then the ale is fine,” Tremayne told him. “Considering not many men have a fancy for a Dragon’s Lick, I’m curious about others requesting it. Obviously not locals, or you’d have mastered it yourself.”
“Very true, friend,” the barkeep said. “See those fellas at the front table?”
Tremayne had noted their presence upon entering but he turned slightly as though he hadn’t and gave them a quick glance. “The ones in the dragon skin vests?”
“They’re the ones.”
Tremayne leaned both forearms on the bar top. “I suppose it makes sense that dragon hunters would enjoy that particular cocktail.”
“I suppose it would,” the man said as he sat a freshly drawn ale down.
Tremayne slid the required coin across in payment. “They seem to have settled in. Does that mean a dragon has been spotted in the vicinity?”
The man nodded. “A big black scaled creature’s been raiding the local lord’s pastures these past months. Sheep and cows have been taken. I suppose his lordship hired the hunters.”
“They look to be right competent assassins,” Tremayne allowed then asked if the tavern could supply a meal, took his drink off to a table far from the hunters and settled in to read a week-old copy of a London newspaper while he waited for his food.
And for the dragon hunters to move into action.
His repast was long past when two other men entered the tavern and conversed quietly with the seated assassins, then they left in a group.
Tremayne paid for his meal, left the paper on the table and bid the man behind the bar a good day. Then he turned in the opposite direction the hunters had taken and slipped through the countryside to where he’d left Molly sleeping.
He heard the commotion long before they were in sight. The roar of the creature, the sounds of the blunderbusses firing, the shouts and a few startled cries as his mate caused a few casualties. It was probably easy for her to judge their movements. She’d been one of them once. An assassin of dragonkind.
An intelligent beast, which he was, learned everything they could about those who hunted them. That he could take human form made gathering information far easier. Allowed him to blend in, as long as the color and configuration of his eyes was hidden. Allowing Molly to see them had been the ultimate lure. The elixir – not of Newton’s creation but of his own – merely turned the tables.
Turned the hunter into the hunted. Into a dragon.
A black scaled dragon, such as he was, since her hair had been onyx.
When he heard a shrieked roar cut off suddenly, he knew the hunting brotherhood had taken down their prey. It simply hadn’t been him.
Tremayne put five miles between himself and the site of the dragon kill before reverting to being a Drakon and winged silently to the lair in the mountains. There were three eggs to watch over. His legacy. His children.
All in all, it had been a very successful campaign. In celebration, he got comfortable, wrapped his tail around the trio of eggs, and flicked his forked tongue into a waiting cask…
Of Dragon’s Lick.
Dragon’s Lick © 2020 Beth Daniels / J.B. Dane
Cover design by Beth Daniels
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, recording, or file sharing, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission from the author. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all incidents are pure invention.