Rhiana [Changelings Series Book 3] [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Michele Hauf
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: Invaded by a cavalcade of vicious dragons, the villagers of St. Renan are snatched up when they venture beyond the walls. Yet Rhiana Tassot--who senses the dragons from a distance, who determines their attack scent from a mating scent, who is blessed with the instincts of a dragon, who dares stand before the fiery beasts without flinching--cannot use her skills to defend her home. For the lord of St. Renan forbids her to track the beasts--not in fear for her safety, but by some twisted desire to protect the dragons. So conflict rages within and without the village and a long-held secret begins to stir beneath their very feet. Rhiana's knowledge of dragons is no accident--and others begin to suspect why....
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2006
This eBook is part of the following series:
22 Reader Ratings:
Western shore of France—1437
The face of the limestone wall was not sheer. Juts of jagged rock poked out like gooseflesh on a cold man's arm, which made for good handholds. Feet bare, for better hold, Rhiana balanced on a helmet-sized shelf of rock. Her back and shoulders pinned to the wall, with outstretched arms, she clasped the uneven surface.
Her heartbeat thudded. A whisper of early-morning breeze curled into the strands of red hair come unbound from the leather strips she used to wrestle her waist-length curls from her eyes. Her skull vibrated with the constant pulse of excitement. This was the sort of endurance test she craved.
One misbalanced step would see her plunging to the rocky seashore below. Rhiana did not remark even a flutter of fear in her breast. No mincing, faint-hearted female be she. Tears and fright were her sister Odette's mien.
'Twas the wee hours of the morning, just past lauds. A few white-bellied seabirds coasted over the somnambulant waves below. A silver sky, this day. The moon had fallen behind the distant line of centuries-old oak and elm that topped the cliff with a thick emerald cap. Only the tides below that hugged the shore with intermittent shushes marked the time.
This was the hour it slept, the moments between the moon's descent and dawn's rise. Rhiana's trainer had taught her to observe and understand the beast, though she had only once before had the opportunity, and that had been brief.
Opportunity had again come, but not without risk.
The creature inhabited the caves wending beneath the mountain that shielded the village of St. Rénan on the north side from the brisk sea storms that frequently arose in the winter months. Caves labryinthed for leagues throughout the mountain, poking out dozens of exit holes along the craggy limestone wall facing the sea.
The wall of stone to which Rhiana clung.
Swinging her right shoulder, she shuffled her feet on the small jut, rotated her hips, and swung her body around. A deft move, which placed her nose to the wall of rock. The stone smelled like the sea, salted by centuries of wind and wave. Dashing out her tongue, it tasted dry and salty, much like last evening's fish stew cooked by Odette. Her sister should keep to the medical arts she so liked to dabble in, and leave the cooking for…well, certainly not Rhiana. 'Twas their mother, Lydia, who created marvels from flour and sugar.
She moved onward. And down.
A wide ledge served as opening to one of the caves, and it stretched out below her like a minstrel's stage. Yet it was a dangerous leap. The castle's finest acrobats might form a tower of four men to broach the distance. A precarious descent.
"I can do this," she muttered to the stone wall. Wasn't as if she'd never before made this climb. "Slowly but surely."
With fingers curved to strong hooks to cling for hold, Rhiana managed another cautious move. She slid her right leg out and tapped a small jut with her toes, testing its stability. Bits of rock crumbled away. Quickly, she retracted and bent her left leg. The toes of her right foot found a more secure spot. The rhythm of her heartbeat remained steady—focused. She worked herself lower.
'Twould be better to fashion a rope ladder and secure it high. Would that she had so clever an idea before making this perilous descent. But she would certainly remember it for future visits. Sure as the snow always fell in winter, there would be future visits.
Pray she survived this day to see that future.
The scrape of her scaled armor against the stone cautioned Rhiana to go slowly. Mustn't make overmuch noise. The creature's hearing was excellent. As was hers. The only thing known to muffle its senses—and hers—was fire and smoke.
It wasn't so much that she heard the sound of the beast's heartbeats in her ears and processed it as noise, rather, the pulse beats of life echoed in her blood as if an ancient stirring of instinct. All her life, Rhiana had noticed, before all others, when a dragon had nested in the caves of St. Rénan. Even as a child of five she had alerted her stepfather to a dragon flying the distant skies.
Only now was she capable of doing something about that eerie cognizance.
Now she determined the distance for a jump was right. Fingers dry and dusted with limestone powder, she secured a good fingerhold on two craggy dents of rock, and dangled her legs over the cave opening. The muscles in her arms stretched to a luxurious ache. Biceps strained, but did not threaten mutiny. This task was to her mettle. Such inner power, it felt good. Strength—it was her boon.
"Admit it!" Memories gushed back from childhood. She'd held her best friend, Rudolph against the wall, her wooden practice sword to his gut. "Say it!"
"Not that, Rudolph."
"Oh. Must I?"
On the verge of tears, Rudolph's lips trembled, but he managed to say, "Girls are better than boys."
Letting go, Rhiana landed her feet and immediately rolled to her side and shoulders, making a complete tumbling circle across the smooth, stone landing. To roll lessened the impact and spread it throughout her body, minimizing the hazard of broken bones. Her trainer had taught her the acrobatic move. She was indebted to Amandine Fleche for the summer he'd spent helping her to master the skills required to perform such tasks. For she constantly sought danger and answered its call.
As well, the call to seek fire ever tempted.
Scrambling to the edge of the cave opening, Rhiana pressed her back to the magnesium-flecked wall that arced and curved about the half moon of blackness. The entrance to hell, the villagers named any and all of the cave openings dotting the seashore.
Copyright © 2006 by Michele Hauf.