Dragon Pirate Hardback Winner

We have a Dragon Pirate Hardback Winner!!

Dragon Pirate Hardback

Congratulations to GG, the winner of the Dragon Pirate Hardback!

From August 2021, my readers were invited to enter the draw to win a Dragon Pirate hardback by creating characters, naming islands, suggesting pirate cusses, giving pirates funny characteristics or animal companions, naming a breed of water scorpion, or suggesting the names of various taverns and pirate ships.

So many wonderful suggestions flooded in.

I was gobsmacked by my readers’ creativity. You can take a glimpse at some of their creations here.

GG (who devours books at a rapid rate) has been a member of my Facebook fan group for a while now and is a keen reader of the Riders of Fire and Riders of Fire Dragon Masters series. I was thrilled with GG’s suggestions and used a couple when I wrote Dragon Pirate.

So, Congratulations GG!

The hardback is currently with the formatter, so the hardback edition may be a while yet, but it will get to GG as soon as it’s ready and uploaded on Amazon. Thanks for hanging out and having fun with me as I write!

To have fun in my Facebook group,  join us here!

Dragon Pirate Preview

Dragon Pirate - epic dragon fantasy

Dragon Pirate Preview

Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 3

by USA Today bestselling author Eileen Mueller

Dragon Pirate Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 3 Out on Amazon

Enjoy this Dragon Pirate preview!

Map of Dragons’ Realm

Dragons Realm, the world of Riders of Fire by Eileen Mueller. Map by Ava Fairhall. *Fieldhaven is known as Last Stop years later, in Riders of Fire..


Prologue – Two Moons Earlier

Will’s legs moved, but not fast enough. A cry formed in his throat, but choked off, no sound slipping past his lips.

Captain Black Eye’s cutlass struck the jade-and-turquoise-veined dragon egg. The shell split, mottled creamy shards spraying the deck. But the captain’s cutlass went further, driving through the dragonet’s neck and cleaving its skull from its body. Dragonet blood sprayed the captain. The baby dragon’s cornflower-blue head bounced on the deck, its golden eyes half-lidded and its perfectly formed half-moon scales glistening with moisture.

Will roared and raced for the captain. As the dandy whirled, Will gripped his cutlass double-handed and plunged it into the captain’s belly. The captain’s mouth sagged and his eyebrows flew up. He stumbled backward, clutching the blade, a crimson stain blossoming across the belly of his creamy linen shirt. He staggered, gurgling, then crashed to the deck.

Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods! Will dropped the cutlass and spun away in horror.

He bent and picked up the dragonet’s head. Cradling it in his hands, he kissed its snout, tears running down his cheeks. He fell to his knees and held the dragonet’s head in his arms, waiting for the mother sea dragon.

She’d come. He knew she would. As inevitably as dawn came after night.

And if she blasted him with fire, he didn’t care.

Her roars echoed across the sea, long before her leathery wings and powerful body were visible. Her grief ricocheting through Will’s chest, she raced at the Fiery Dragon, her wings beating up a storm and her roars buffeting the sails. The ship bobbed and tossed like a cork in a storm.

“He killed my baby!” The dragon’s roar ripped through Will’s mind.

“He and his first mate killed my best friend, too.” Treyvin’s corpse behind him, Will sobbed, gazing at the dead dragonet’s sweet wee body lying amid the mottled jade-and-turquoise veined shards.

“Rip out that captain’s heart and feed it to me.” She circled above the masts.

“R-rip out his…?” Will gaped, paralyzed, and saw his best friend Treyvin bleeding on the deck after his lashing, all over again. Saw him fevered and convulsing. Dead. Imagined him being fed to prowling sharks.

“That foul murderer deserves it.” The dragon’s wrath washed through Will’s mind, setting his veins ablaze.

“But if he’s a murderer, what am I?” Will stared at his hands, still holding the dragonet’s head, sticky with its blood. Sticky with the captain’s blood, too. He’d killed a man.

“You are the defender of my progeny. And I demand vengeance.”

A whirlwind of tumultuous energy rushed through Will. His hands trembled with the sea dragon’s rage. He had to do something. Anything. In the dragon’s thrall, he set the dragonet’s head aside and whipped a dagger from the captain’s belt. The sea dragon’s rage swept through him. Will plunged the dagger into the man’s chest. His knife glanced off the captain’s breastbone and slid sideways, sinking deep into the man’s flesh. Blood flooded his hands.

“Press harder,” the dragon roared.

Gripping the handle, Will leaned his hip on the blade. The knife made a wet crunch, snapping through a rib. He shoved harder, but the blade was too slick. He lost his grip and slipped, crashing onto the captain’s bloody chest.

Panting, Will awoke in his cabin, drenched in sweat, tangled in his bed sheets. He unwrapped the sheet from around his neck. Gods, how had that gotten there? It was as if he’d tried to hang himself in his sleep. And with good reason. He was a murderer now and a bloody-handed pirate captain. A slave trader with a death notice on his head if he didn’t bring in his next shipment.

He kicked his legs free of the sheets and sat up. Grabbing a waterskin, he slugged back a few mouthfuls, then sighed, turning his face to the cool ocean breeze wafting through the porthole.

By the First Egg, there was no point in going back to sleep. Once the night terrors took him, they seldom abated. He didn’t want to fall asleep and finish the rest of his dream, because he knew how it panned out. He shuddered. Except it wasn’t a dream. His memories haunted him every day.

The things he’d done.

The men he’d killed.

The heart his dragon, Scarletta, had eaten.

Gods, the sounds plagued his dreams too—her crunching, the squelch of ripping tissue and—

No. He wouldn’t go there. Not tonight.

The soft laughter of his crew on deck drifted through the cabin door.

He’d join them and quiet his weary mind.

Will tugged off his sweat-drenched shirt and strode to the closet to fish out a fresh one. He threw it on and stalked out to the deck.

Will sat down on a barrel next to Spider Face, his first mate, and propped his legs on the railing, staring northward. He gazed over the sea toward Naobia. Far off in the distance, the first dragon, Arisha, twinkled above Dragons’ Realm, the constellation barely visible in the dark velvet sky. Hopefully, Ma was well and she and Star were managing to get by. Will’s chest panged fiercely. Gods, he missed his home and family. He longed to tousle his sister’s hair and—

Enough. A pirate captain had to be tough, not sappy. Will gestured at Larkspur, a recent recruit to his crew. “Bring me some golden ale, and a bottle of dragon fire for the first mate.”

Larkspur nodded and sauntered across the deck to the hold.

Spider Face propped his feet up beside Will’s. “Don’t know why you drink that dragon pee.”

Will grunted.

The first mate continued, “I much prefer fire in my belly than that pig swill.”

Yes, dragon fire was better if you wanted to get drunk. But the golden ale was weak enough that Will could match the burliest pirate, tankard for tankard, and still keep his wits about him.

Larkspur returned with a pitcher of foaming ale, a bottle of dragon fire, and two tankards. He poured Will a drink, then thrust the bottle and other tankard at the first mate.

Spider Face noticed the slight. “Fetch at some food,” he snapped at Larkspur.

“I’m no cabin boy,” the pirate grumbled.

Steel flashed in Spider Face’s hand. The next moment, a blade was resting on Larkspur’s collarbones. “What did you say?” the first mate snarled. Spider Face pricked the man’s skin. A trickle of blood dribbled onto Larkspur’s shirt, the coppery tang wafting on the salty air. “I asked you what you said,” Spider Face snarled again, flaring his nostrils.

Larkspur’s violet eyes were filled with challenge as he met Spider Face’s angry gaze. “I’m no cabin boy.” He stared down his nose at the blade as if it were a pesky insect. “When you take the next shipment of slaves, perhaps the captain should find a cabin boy. Someone suited to running errands and being at his beck and call. It may be easier for Captain Scarlet Hand to have someone always at hand.”

Will chuckled. “Right you may be. We’ll consider it, but in the meantime, you’ll perform every duty the first mate or I give you, whether you like it or not. Am I clear?”

The man bobbed his head, his purple eyes glinting at Spider Face.

Enough insubordination. Larkspur needed to be put in his place, or these two would soon be at each other’s throats. “Scarletta, a word please.”

There was a scrape of talons up the hull, and his beautiful emerald-and-sapphire-scaled sea dragon poked her serpentine neck over the ship’s rail, glowering at Larkspur. Dripping seawater, she curled back her lips, baring her fangs. A low rumble rolled from her maw.

Will motioned Spider Face to sheathe his blade, and waved Larkspur belowdecks. “Thanks, that will be all.”

Larkspur bowed to Scarletta, his striking purple eyes flashing with admiration before he sauntered off.

Scarletta nudged Will’s boot with her snout. Her slitted pupils traveled over the green and turquoise fire-breathing sea dragons embroidered up the calves of his pecan-brown leather boots. “Although I do like these dragons, they’re nothing compared to my beauty and majesty.”

“Too right. But they’re a symbol of my power.”

“Whose power?”

“Ours, of course,” Will said. “The power of sea dragons. I’m nothing without you. And you know it.”

“But you’re everything to me,” Scarletta rumbled in his mind, puffing warm breath over him. She let go of the side of the ship and dived into the dark, silky sea. Images of fish scattering before her flitted through Will’s head. “I’m off to catch dinner. Call me when you need me.” The majestic sea dragon broke mind-meld.

Will chugged back the contents of his tankard.

“You showed that new upstart.” Spider Face laughed, and gripped the bottle with his stubby fingers, sloshing more dragon fire into his tankard. Will had never seen a large man with such broad hands and short, stubby fingers. Spider grinned. “No one can argue with a dragon.”

Halfway through Will’s second tankard of dragon pee, a green flash lit up the distant sky, rippling through the dark. He and Spider Face leaped to their feet, staring over the ocean at the bright-green light haloing the distant cliffs.

“That was mage flame.” Spider Face’s keen eyes were fixed on the horizon. He wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “And it was above Metropoli.”

Will swallowed, glad they’d left the Emperor’s shores a day ago. Glad he didn’t have to face whoever had unleashed that ferocious power—power strong enough to light up the sky a day’s sail away. Thank the First Egg he’d sealed his new bargain with the Emperor before the mage had arrived. Thank the Egg, the Fiery Dragon was already far offshore.

Deep in his bones, he knew the powerful mage was hunting him.

The Scarlet Hand


The inky night swallowed the blood-red sails of the Fiery Dragon as Will steered the ship along the east coast of Talon Isle. When they were just outside Moonshine Bay, he hissed, “Lower the anchor.”

“Aye, aye, Captain Scarlet Hand,” his first mate, Spider Face, replied. Stalking along the deck, he called softly, “Oi, you two, wake up and heave ho.”

Two pirates staggered to their feet and then tossed the anchor overboard, the chain rattling along the ship’s timbers as it uncoiled like a serpent and sank into the deep.

The Scarlet Hand’s eyes roved over the bay. A lone lantern on the dock illuminated the glimmer of furled, white sails. It was the passenger ship they were seeking, the one that took people to the Southern Isles. He wet his lips and smiled.

Many ships stopped to replenish their supplies at Talon Isle, to prepare for the long trip south. If this was the right vessel, she’d be picking up passengers here, too.

Spider Face approached Will and grinned, his redback spider tattoo twitching on his cheek. “So, Captain Scarlet Hand, how will we take this ship? Will Scarletta aid us? Shall we swing aboard tonight? Wait until they’re out at sea? What’s your plan?”

The longboat thunked against the side of the Fiery Dragon as it was lowered. With a splash, it hit the ocean. Spider Face arched an eyebrow as Swan, Mo and Blue swung over the side of the ship on ropes and slithered down to the longboat. The quiet dip of oars signaled their departure.

Will deliberately hadn’t told his first mate he was sending three of his crew ashore to the tavern. The first mate liked his dragon fire far too much. A few tankards, and he’d forget any intelligence he gained at the bar. “This time, I’d like to use strategy, not only brute force.” Will flashed his teeth in a smile.

Spider Face’s teeth flashed in return. “Brute force has its place.”

Will didn’t miss the glint in Spider Face’s eye as his stubby fingers stroked the hilt of his cutlass. Will stalked from the tiller down to the deck, Spider Face falling in behind him. He unfolded a wooden chair, sat, and propped his boots on the ship’s railing. His crew members furled the sails and busied themselves, some tying off ropes while others headed belowdecks into the bowels of the ship to hunker down for the night. Will repressed a shudder, remembering when he’d been imprisoned in the same hull where these men now slept.

Spider Face rolled a half-empty barrel over and sat beside him. “So?”

Will shrugged. “We’ll see.” It depended what Swan, Mo, and Blue found out while scouring the docks and the tavern.

Larkspur sauntered past, his violet eyes flitting over them then out to the passenger ship at the dock. The breeze ruffled the dark hair that hung to his backside.

Spider Face glowered at Larkspur—one of the latest crew members they’d picked up in Metropoli when they’d recently visited the Emperor and dispatched their second shipment of slaves for his goldmines.

Slaves were a lucrative trade. Far better than butchering innocents.

Larkspur tied off a rope and turned to Spider Face, his lip curling. “Any more jobs for me, first mate?”

“That’s all for tonight.”

Where was Larkspur from? It was anyone’s guess how that man could fight with hair as long as a woman’s, but fight he could. He’d proven that in a brawl on the docks in Metropoli. When Will had seen Larkspur’s knives flashing, he’d immediately offered him a position with his crew, the Bloody Cutlasses.

Although he valued keen fighters, Will couldn’t stomach his crew’s bloodlust. In the past four moons as the Scarlet Hand, Will had drenched his hands in enough blood. He didn’t need any more deaths on his conscience, so he’d convinced his pirate crew that trading sailors as slaves was more lucrative than executing the crews of the ships they ransacked.

Thank the Egg the Emperor was willing to pay handsomely for strong slaves. Will didn’t want to paint his hands any redder than they already were.

“The men you killed deserved to die,” Scarletta, his sea dragon, crooned from the depths of the bay.

“Maybe,” Will replied via mind-meld. Who deserved to die?

Well, except Captain Black Eye for killing Scarletta’s dragonet—and Gold Grin, Black Eye’s second mate for whipping Will’s best friend Treyvin, who’d died later when his lash wounds had turned septic. He settled back to wait for the return of their crew members.

“So, what’s your strategy, again?” the first mate wheedled.

Will suppressed a smile. “I’ll tell you soon enough. There’s no hurry.”

“So, we’re not attacking them tonight?”

“We may not need to attack them at all,” Will replied mysteriously. He loved keeping Spider Face dangling. Nearly as much as he loved using shows of power against unruly crew members.


Rusty held out the captain’s frock coat, helping him into it. He slid an arm into one sleeve and then the other. She fastened the front and brushed a speck of dust from his shoulder. “You look fit to meet a queen.”

“A Queen?” Captain Ned snorted. “A queen would be a fine passenger. The First Egg knows we need a few more.” He turned to the cabin door.

Rusty opened it and ushered him outside into the bright morning light, bowing with the deference appropriate for a cabin boy.

The crew knew the cabin boy was the captain’s nephew. That was as far as it went. None of them suspected she was actually Captain Ned’s niece. Just as none of them knew he’d promised she’d own this ship one day and be captain herself. She shut the cabin door and followed the captain along the deck of the Silver Fin to greet the new influx of passengers destined for the Southern Isles.

Uncle Ned froze in his tracks, his gaze fixed to starboard. Rusty pulled herself up short before she slammed into his back.

“Shiver me timbers,” he gasped. “It’s the Scarlet Hand.”

At the mouth of the bay, blood-red sails furled tightly and her hull bobbing on a silky sheet of sapphire blue, was the Fiery Dragon. The majestic ship sported the figurehead of a dragon at her prow.

Rusty tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. The Scarlet Hand—and the Bloody Cutlasses, his band of cutthroat pirates—were here in Moonshine Bay.

Over the past few moons, the notorious pirate captain who’d sprung up out of nowhere had made a name for himself terrorizing ships and kidnapping passengers to sell as slaves to the Emperor of Metropoli for his gold mines. He left tales of murder, mayhem and bloody carnage, like flotsam, in his wake. They said he ate the hearts of his enemies. Gods knew what he did to young girls. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead.

“Stick with me,” Captain Ned muttered. “Hopefully, those shrotty pirates are just here to replenish supplies.” He stalked along the deck.

Rusty scurried after him, her eyes drawn to the Fiery Dragon. Apart from a figure with his boots propped up over the edge of the crow’s nest, the deck of the pirate ship was empty. With any luck, those scoundrels were all sleeping off ale-induced headaches. If Captain Ned could weigh anchor and head out, they’d soon be far from that band of bloody cutthroats.

A school of silver fish flitted past the Silver Fin as she scurried after Uncle Ned, their scales flashing like diamonds under the ocean’s surface. Rusty took a deep breath. This was why she’d begged her uncle to take her to sea when she’d been orphaned: the vast open space of the ocean; the spray in her face; the wind in her hair; and the creatures teeming in the depths of that endless carpet of turquoise and lapis—as ever-changing as the skies above.

Dressed in an open bronze frock coat, the ship’s purser was sitting at a small desk near the head of the gangplank, recording the names of passengers embarking from Talon Isle. His pudgy stomach was barely contained within his white shirt and hung over his peacock-green satin breeches. He pursed his lips. “Johann and Samantha, going to the Southern Isles.” His quill scratched on his parchment. “Two golden dragon heads, thank you.”

They were a handsome, olive-skinned couple. She was in a purple gown that matched his frock coat.

The purser waved them on board, where Capitan Ned greeted them.

Now it was Rusty’s turn. “This way please.” She took their trunks, as heavy as gold bullion, and showed them over to the railing. “I’ll be with you shortly.”

“Next.” The breeze ruffled the lace collar at the purser’s neck as he recorded the next two passengers—merchants, from the look of their tailored breeches and the pile of trunks their boy was bringing on board.

The purser tapped his foot impatiently, waiting for the next couple. The snappy gold buckles on his shoes were polished so brightly, Rusty was sure he admired his own reflection in them—daily.

Rusty craned her neck—ah, that was the hold up. A rugged, good-looking man was helping his willowy wife who’d stumbled over her voluminous petticoats at the bottom of the gangplank. His dark hair gleamed with coconut oil, and she was dressed in an emerald dress with layers of petticoats and swathes of lime ribbon. Sure, her dress was elegant, but sharding awkward to walk in. Although she had a shawl covering her head, chest, and shoulders, her dark hair hung to her hips and swayed as she minced onto the deck.

The woman whispered something to her husband, and he laughed, a rich melodious swell that rose on the breeze. “My love, allow me to assist you.”

She gave a high-pitched giggle and fluttered her eyelashes. He took her gloved hand in his, and they stepped onto the deck amid a rustle of silk.

By the dragon gods, the woman was tall, had striking violet eyes, and glossy, raven hair. No wonder this man had fallen for her.

Rusty’s chest panged. She was short, red-headed and freckled, alone in the world except for Uncle Ned. Although she liked her hair, what would it be like to be pretty? To have a handsome companion with a rich laugh and an easy smile? Someone who cared because they loved her, not just because she was family.

“Names?” the purser asked.

“Swan,” the gentleman said. “My name is Horatio and my fair wife is Aviv.”

Aviv didn’t say much as she minced over to the captain and curtsied, flashing the tips of her large, scuffed shoes.

It was odd that her footwear was so worn when she had such an elegant dress.

Rusty inclined her head, and lifted Aviv’s trunk. It was as heavy as gold bullion.

“No,” Aviv squeaked. She snatched up her enormous trunk with her large gloved hand, lifting it as if it were empty.

“Darling,” Horatio said, “Let me take that for you.”

Aviv giggled and lowered her eyes, flirtatiously gazing up through her long lashes, and handed her trunk to her husband.

The slim, pretty lady was stronger than she looked.

An elderly couple embarked next, the woman bent and wrinkled with a Robandi-style scarf hiding most of her face. A dark, blotchy scar on her husband’s cheek twitched as he smiled at her.

Rusty turned to the elderly couple and reached out to take their luggage.

“No, lad, I’m fine with our belongings,” the scarred man said. “Lead on, boy.”

Lee, one of her favorite sailors, flashed Rusty a grin. “You all right with those, boy?”

“Sure am,” Rusty affirmed, grabbing them, and following Lee toward the railing.

A steady stream of passengers came aboard.

One was a man, only a few summers older than Rusty, with sapphire eyes so piercing they drilled through her. His gaze raked over Uncle Ned and the other passengers. He gave the captain a terse nod, his blond hair glinting with red highlights in the sun. His only possessions were a burlap sack and the coin pouch at his belt. He dipped into it and flourished a dragon head. “I’m going to Dragon’s Maw Isle.”

The purser nodded, quill poised above his parchment. “Your name?”

“Johnny Blue,” he said, winking at the purser. He stuck his thumbs in his belt loops and strode over to the passengers milling by the rail.

A motley assortment of sailors and tradesmen bound for the next isle followed him aboard, but Rusty’s eyes were drawn to the blue-eyed man. His gaze was sharper than a freshly honed blade.

A lady minced up the gangplank in a heavy blue dress, her full skirts embellished with lemon ribbons. A dapper blond man accompanied her in an elegant red silk coat and dark breeches.

Captain Ned nodded at them. “Welcome aboard, sir, madam.“ He gestured at her heavy trunk. “Rusty, please take our new guests’ belongings over by the rail.”

Nodding, Rusty picked up a fancy brown leather trunk with gold lettering on it in swirling script. She tried not to stagger under the weight of the hefty trunk as she dragged it to the railing.

The final gaggle of passengers embarked, and Rusty helped them with their luggage. The entire time, Johnny Blue watched her like a dragon guarding eggs.

The crew drew up the gangplank. The purser stowed the funds in the captain’s cabin, and Lee cleared away his desk and chair, the anchor tattoos on his forearms rippling. Three more sailors heaved the anchor back on board, while others set the sails. The Silver Fin pulled away from the dock.

A ragged cheer rose from the gathered passengers as the dock, stores, and shoreline receded.

“Look, the Scarlet Hand,” the woman with the lemon ribbons called, pointing to the mouth of the bay. “They call his pirates the Bloody Cutlasses, and for good reason.”

The rowdy passengers quieted. Gazes were somber. Brows furrowed. Aviv, with the violet eyes, clutched her handsome Horatio’s hand, and he drew a protective arm around her shoulders.

As they passed the pirate ship with its furled blood-red sails, rumbling snores drifted from the Fiery Dragon’s crow’s nest.

“Nothing to fear, my dear,” Horatio said. “Those lazy good-for-nothings are all asleep.”

When the Fiery Dragon was well behind them, Captain Ned cleared his throat. “Welcome aboard the Silver Fin. My cabin boy will show you to your berths. Dinner will be served an hour before dusk, and you’ll be summoned by the dinner gong.”

“Excuse me, Captain. That ship has red sails,” said the woman with the lemon ribbons. “In port, they’re saying it’s the Scarlet Hand and the Bloody Cutlasses. Are we in danger?”

Captain Ned gave a cheery grin. “As you can see, those pirates are sleeping the morning away. We’ll be gone before they rouse, and then you’ll be safer out of port.” He cleared his throat. “However, if there’s any trouble, we’ll sound the ship’s bell. If you hear the bell pealing, bolt your doors, and stay inside your cabins.”

Nods and murmurs of assent rippled through the crowd.

“Now,” said Captain Ned, a trickle of sweat running down his temple, “my cabin boy, Rusty, and Lee, here, will show you to your berths belowdecks.”

Rusty could see through his act: Uncle Ned was trying not to startle their passengers. “This way,” she called, putting on a brave face, too. All that talk of the Scarlet Hand made her neck break out in prickles of cold sweat.


“What can you see, Joffa?” Will called up, squinting through the inky night. Was that the glimmer of the Silver Fin’s sails on the horizon, or were his eyes playing tricks on him?

High above, Joffa leaned over the edge of his crow’s nest, a spyglass in his hand. “We’re gaining on her, Captain.” He adjusted the spyglass. “In an hour or so, she’ll be within arrow range. If we get a better tailwind, we could use Crusher.”

Will ignored the lanky pirate who loved the crow’s nest so much. The crew called that agile monkey Joffa the Crow, or just Crow—appropriate, given that he usually slept up in that nest. However, Will had never said he wanted to use arrows or Crusher—the long metal spar that smashed into ships. Joffa didn’t know he wanted the Silver Fin whole. However, their speed was good news. They’d made much better time than he’d thought.

Beside Will, Mo rested his elbows on the railing and tilted his head back to address Joffa. “The captain has other plans, Crow. We may not need our usual tactics tonight.” His dark mustache waggled as he spoke, the ends drooping right off his chin. His eyes danced as he met Will’s gaze. “Should be a fun show, Captain. I wish I wasn’t going to miss it.”

The crew trimmed the mainsail to catch the stiff breeze. Below, oar ports opened, and the oars dipped quietly into the dark velvet sea, speeding them closer to the unsuspecting passenger ship scuttling over the ocean before them.

The Silver Fin didn’t stand a chance. She was a heavier, more cumbersome vessel. The Fiery Dragon was sleeker, especially designed to cut through the water at speed. Will chuckled. Not that it mattered. He didn’t need to catch the ship to take the Silver Fin.

From beneath the sea, a familiar voice mind-melded, “Scarlet Hand, please let me know when you need me.”

Will grinned. Who would have thought when he was press-ganged from the marketplace in Naobia with Treyvin four moons ago that he’d end up as the most notorious captain on Naobian Sea. Not that he’d forgiven the pirate who’d killed his best friend. Treyvin’s death had been a callous, mean-spirited waste. Looking back, it was a shame Scarletta had killed Gold Grin, the first mate and Treyvin’s murderer, so promptly. Months of slow torture would’ve been much more satisfying.

“Yes, Scarletta,” Will replied, adjusting his tricorne. “I’ll let you know when we’re ready for action.”

“Nothing would thrill me more,” his dragon purred in his mind, a sinister edge lacing her words.

The Silver Fin


“Captain, I swear there’s something odd about those passengers, especially the Swans—Horatio and Aviv.” Rusty sat on her cot and shucked off her boots.

“The Swans?” Uncle Ned frowned. “They are a rather unusual couple. But when you’ve sailed as many seas and stopped in as many ports as I have, you get to see quite a few things, young Rusty.” He tugged the shirt off his head, and pulled on his nightshirt, dragging it down over his hairy chest. “The reason I never hand-fasted was because I couldn’t stay still long enough to settle down and I never found a woman who loved life on the sea. I’ve seen many a fine woman in many a port. That Aviv is rather striking, but she is slightly unusual.”

“Slightly?” Rusty had never seen anyone else with violet eyes, and most women were nowhere near that tall. “Her feet are rather large and her boots are worn and scuffed, like a man’s. Not at all what I’d expect from a lady.”

Captain Ned chuckled and raised an eyebrow, shooting her a piercing glance. “Not what you would expect from a lady?”

Footsteps prowled along the deck outside—a sailor on night-watch.

Rusty’s eyes darted to the door.

The captain chuckled again, deliberately raising his voice. “Well, my lad, I wouldn’t imagine you’ve had a lot of experience with ladies.”

Because she was a girl? She gaped, staring at him. How dare he giveaway her secret. They’d agreed they’d never once refer to her being female while she was on board or within hearing of the crew.

His eyes flew wide and realization dawned on his face. “After all, you’re only thirteen summers, boy,” he bluffed, laughing again loudly, his eyes sliding to the deck outside.

Thank the dragon gods, he’d fixed his gaffe. And she wasn’t thirteen summers; rather, a slim, short eighteen summers. Rusty huffed. “She lifted that trunk as if it were nothing.”

“Yes, well, she is a rather strong woman, but that’s not unheard of.”

“That elderly couple was odd too.”

Uncle Ned shook his head. “Come on, Rusty, you’re not the worldliest of young men. There are many things I’d rather not have to explain to you at your age.”

“Do you think Aviv could be a man in woman’s clothing?” The moment the words escaped from Rusty’s mouth, they made sense. She’d heard of men who liked to dress in female garb. Not that she was one to talk, binding her breasts and running away to sea as her uncle’s cabin boy. One day, when Uncle Ned was too old, she’d be captain of this ship, and then she wouldn’t have to hide who she was.

Captain Ned gave her a stern gaze. “That’s enough. They’re paying passengers. It’s not our business to question their personal lives. We take their coin, and leave them in a port of their choosing. Your imagination is running wild again, young lad. I suggest you get some sleep.”

Rusty rolled her eyes clambered into her cot, tugging the covers up. She always slept in her clothes, so she didn’t risk the crew finding out she was female.

But Uncle Ned was not finished. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand the full range of human proclivities. It’s not my job to explain all the ways of the world to an innocent young lad.”

Whatever proclivities were. “Would you rather I found out from the crew?” Rusty wanted to storm belowdecks to do just that. Surely someone else had noticed their passengers were strange.

Blotchy red patches appeared on Uncle Ned’s cheeks. “Enough,” he bellowed, extinguishing the lantern and plunging the cabin into darkness.


Rusty woke in the dead of night to a scrape on deck. She sat up in bed and cocked her head. There was another scrape followed by a muffled thump.

Captain Ned was snoring soundly. If she woke him, whoever was outside would hear his snoring stop, so instead, she slipped out of bed, tugged on her boots in the dark and stole over to the window.

Rusty twitched a corner of the curtain up.

Through the gloom, she made out a stealthy figure with a long braid sneaking across the deck. A blade flashed in the moonlight. Moments later, the figure lowered a sailor to the deck with another muffled thump.

Oh gods, by the First Egg, the night-watch sailor was dead. The tall dark figure spun toward the captain’s cabin.

Heart pounding, Rusty dropped the curtain.


Dragon Pirate – Epic Dragon Fantasy readers are Awesome

Dragon Pirate - epic dragon fantasy

DRAGON PIRATE – Epic Dragon Fantasy

Dragon Pirate, Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book launches today!

9 June 2022

Dragon Pirate Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 3

What can one lone woman, disguised as a cabin boy, do against a notorious pirate captain with a fierce sea dragon and a bloodthirsty crew?

When Rusty’s uncle is killed by the Scarlet Hand, she’s taken aboard the Fiery Dragon as the new cabin boy.

She vows revenge.

But never suspects she’ll fall into the Scarlet Hand’s snare.

If you like swashbuckling pirates, sea dragons and danger on the high seas, set sail with Dragon Pirate.

Available on Amazon

Launch Party!

9 June 2022 2pm-10:30pm Eastern Time  

(10 June 2022 6am-2:30pm  in NZ)

ragon Pirate launch party Eileen Mueller

We’re having a launch party in my Facebook group: Riders of Fire: Eileen Mueller’s Fan Zone, so please join us. There’ll be fantasy games, prizes and  fun! It should be a blast!

Angel Haze is hosting the party with me, to celebrate her recent release of Reign of Shadows, Battleborn Mage book 1. I know her fans have been waiting a lifetime for  this exciting adventure! Angel is the  founder of the Indie Fantasy Addicts facebook group of 7000 members, where we hang out and have loads of fanatsy fun.

So, join us in my Riders of Fire Facebook group for our epic party full of fantasy fun, games and prizes!

Reign of Shadows Battleborn Mage book 1 by Angel Haze

My Readers are Awesome! So Many Names!

What an adventure it’s been writing this book. It’s been wonderful, largely due to my fabulous readers! Here’s why…

I asked for pirate characters and you created many. I asked for tavern names and was flooded with great suggestions. I asked you to create islands, name them, and name ships. You’ve given me animal companions, pirate cusses, named a scorpion, and given me fleet-building tactics (many of which I’ll use in another book). You’ve even created a Naobian deep-fried delicacy!

You’ve named a dragon! And yes, some one made up a terrible joke! Tony Slater’s a hilarious guy! I Integrated that joke into a tavern scene—his is the joke Rusty tells about pies. Thank you.

The Challenge

It’s been challenging to incorporate as many of your suggestions as possible into Dragon Pirate, and it’s been so much fun. I have the BEST readers! I LOVE hanging out with my readers in my Facebook group. I LOVE writing for you. I LOVE your feedback on my books. I LOVE your enthusiasm for Riders of Fire, Riders of Fire Dragon Masters, the Dragon Shifters’ Hoard and my Riders of Fire Dragons series. We have so much fun together in my Facebook group.

What did you create in Dragon Pirate? This is a huge cast!


Kelly Erickson created a Naobian deep-fried delicacy: snakelings in spicy dipping sauce. Yummy! I hope she sends us the recipe!

Water Scorpion

Water scorpoin

The scorpion that the Scarlet Hand  discovered crawling over his feet was a joint collaboration. From 27 entries, James McGinnis suggested aquascorpio. Paula Schaefer and Tiffany Shand both came up with deathstinger! So, deathstinger aquascorpio it is. A truly terrifying little creature. Rusty had great nerve handling it.

One day, I’ll tell you the story of the water scorpion I showered with in Indonesia. I stayed very calm, which was not at all the reaction of the staff running the $2-a-night backpaker’s hostel I was staying at! Their shrieks could probably be heard throughout the Pacific Ocean. Highly deadly indeed. (The shrieks or the scorpion? Maybe both).


Dragon Pirate, Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 3 by USA Today bestselling author Eileen Mueller
Seafight: Pirate Tavern – by Grzegorz Rutkowski.

Oh, what fun there is to be had in fantasy taverns! There’s nothing like a decent pirate brawl! The Leaky Keg on Pirate Island was named by Jens D RacherBaümer and Paul Mouchet was responsible for naming the Drunken Parrot in Metropoli.

The real question is, shall we also make these two readers responsible for cleaning up the chaos that the Bloody Cutlasses leave in their wake every time they visit a tavern?

Pirate Island

The inspiration for the difficult passage into a lovely inlet came from Craig Harder. I created the chasm as a result. Mandie Sagen suggested an island where retired pirates live. Of course, I had to make them broken-down, retired pirates with eccentric habits, keen for a brawl … Let the fun begin!

The Isles

The isles in the Naobian Sea: Karen Hoke named Firewing Isle; Tracey Harden named Scaleclaw Isle; and I named Talon Isle and Dragon’s Maw Isle. There will be more isles to sail to in Dragon Captain. You gave me so many brilliant names! Thanks.


Cheryl Allsup came up with, “fire-riddled dragon bum,” which I shaped into “fire-riddled backside of a dragon with belly gripe.” Kelly Erickson suggested, “wingless surface lubbers.” Lorie Kuzma suggested, “worm-riddled bilge rat.” Mandie Sagen suggested, “slimy, rat-infested land worms,” much to Spider’s delight. Barbara Laing suggested, “bottom feeder,” which became “scum-sucking, bottom feeder.” Sandy Fosdick’s “leech-riddled water horse,” became: “That flaming leech-riddled water horse and stinking rider!”

It was so much fun to see what people created. I’m sure I could have incorporated more bilge rats! They also seemed to be a favorite.

Ship Names

Pirate shipSome of the ships docked at Metropoli were named by my readers, including The Golden Mermaid by Anne Caprani-Langkilde, and Star of Glory by Jan Cantle. The Crimson Fin was named by Nicole DragonBeck. Great names—thanks everyone.

What About Your Pirates?

Female pirate

One of the difficulties with having readers create pirates is that my readers created pirates worthy of being the captains of their own ships! They had great characteristics, talents, intriguing back stories and larger-than-life personalities. Not to mention, striking looks. With so many stars running around on deck, there would’ve been constant fights to hog the limelight. I had no choice but to splice pirates together out of your genetic pool and my own ideas!

So, here we go. The basis, and usually the name, for each pirate was suggested by a reader, however these pirates have grown to be a different to their initial DNA!!

 A huge thank you to Martha D Johnson for creating Larkspur with his violet eyes, willowy figure and long dark hair. I couldn’t include him having wings and fangs, however, I did keep his skills with a dagger.

Lefty was Nicole DragonBeck’s idea, including his cat! John Grasso suggested Volto. Unfortunately he couldn’t be an elf, as elves haven’t found their way through a world gate to Dragons’ Realm (yet), however, I did keep the rapier, leather trench coat, and his double-tipped ear due to a sword slice.

Gunthar and his pet gecko were Jackie Tansey’s idea. I couldn’t resist giving Gunthar a wooden leg when Jackie suggested that he hops. Please forgive me for getting his gecko drunk on rum! It was so much fun. I used GG’s name for Talvor, however the character was Will’s dad, not the cool one GG suggested. Honestly, there were just too many pirates running around aboard the Fiery Dragon. I did use GG’s suggestion for Grins Cabeya, including those wicked poisoned darts.

Jan Cantle suggested Hairy Stu with his Santa Claus snowy halo of hair. Mo was from Barbara Laing. I’m sorry he had a bitter end. Joffa the Crow was suggested by Mandie Sagen, charcoal and all! Andrew Agnew gave me Tiny. I’m so glad Andrew’s created him with no tongue—not me! I’m glad I can do more than honk! Johnny Blue came from Lorie Kuzma. I dyed his hair strawberry blond, but made sure he hung onto those sapphire-hilted daggers that matched his eyes. Swan, the handsome rouge, charmed his way onto the Fiery Dragon with the help of Patrick Goodwin.

If there are any crew I’ve missed, please let me know. I had many more great characters that readers gave me, including a plethora of female pirates—enough to crew an entire ship of their own.

Hmm… roll on Dragon Captain! You may see some of your characters turn up yet! I have special announcement to make about the series expanding… ooops, I’m getting ahead of myself. Not yet! All in due time.

First, let’s grab our copies of Dragon Pirate and Reign of Shadows and head to the party!

Thanks again to everyone for being awesome!

Snow and Red Dragon Shifters’ Hoard book 1 – Sneak Preview

Dragon Shifters Hoard - Snow and Red

Snow and Red Dragon Shifters’ Hoard book 1 – Sneak Preview

It’s so exciting to finally launch Snow and Red in 5 days! I remember the walk A. J. Ponder and I took through Central Park, here in New Zealand (very different to the Central Park in New York), when we first plotted this story. Now it has come to life with a sequel, Zephyr and Snow, releasing soon!

Snow and Red is based on a little known fairy tale of Snow White and Rose Red, two sisters who befriended a bear (who is a secretly an enchanted prince). Three times, they unwittingly help the dwarf who enchanted him, then accidentally break the spell, freeing the prince to be himself.

We’re often asked how closely Snow and Red fits the original fairy tale. Our story has twin dragon shifters who are enchanted, two sisters who befriend them and accidentally help the being who enchanted the twins three times, and yes, the spell does get broken. However, our story takes place in our time and not in a forest… but the underworld of a city… you can ENJOY A SNEAK PREVIEW HERE

But first, download Draki Twins, the free prequel.

Free Prequel - Dragon Shifters' Hoard - Draki twins.

Your Sneak Preview – Snow and Red

Dragon Shifters Hoard - Snow and Red Eileen Mueller A J Ponder

Night Out

Red shimmied into her green velvet top and tugged it down over her dark skinny jeans. “Snow, what do you think?” she called.

Her sister sauntered though Red’s doorway in her silver sequined tank, black miniskirt and sparkly stiletto sandals. Snow raised an eyebrow. Her cool gaze roamed the room. “A mess as usual.”

Red rolled her eyes. “I don’t mean my room, Ice Queen.” She jabbed her thumbs at her top. “This.”

“I know, just teasing.” Snow grinned. “What should I say? Hot. With you dressed like that, no wonder none of the boys look at me.”

Red laughed. “I doubt that.” Snow was pretty, but so shy she fled when most boys smiled.

Snow shrugged a slim pale shoulder, her white-blonde hair cascading around her. “I’m starving. Let’s eat. You can clean up your room later.”

As if. No one cleaned any room in this house except the icy neatness freak. As much as Red loved her, Snow was a little over the top. Red shoved a mountain of clothes to one side of her bed so she could sit, and pulled on her boots, then followed Snow into the kitchen.

Red opened the fridge and slapped some slices of cold pizza onto two plates. Holding the plates in her hands, she let heat flow from her core, singing through her veins like liquid fire until it ran along her forearms and into her fingers. The sizzle of magic made her bones thrum and her adrenaline kick in. How could anyone live without magic? Life would be so boring. In moments, the plates were hot and the pizza was steaming. Red plonked the plates onto the kitchen counter. “Food’s up. Let’s eat. I don’t want to be late tonight.”

Snow pulled a carton of orange juice and two glasses from the cupboard. “Ice?” She gave Red another one of her infamous eyebrow arches.

“Sure.” Red laughed.

Snow held the glass until it was slick with condensation.

“Hey, whoa. I want a drink, not an ice block.”

Snow passed her the chilly glass.

Red took a slug. “Ah, perfect. I hope you keep my drinks cool tonight.”

Snow frowned. “You know what Mom said. We can’t do anything like this in public, Red.”

“’Course not.” Despite Red never intending to use her talents in public, sometimes stuff happened.

Snow glared at her. “I mean it, Red. You can’t use your powers tonight. Not on purpose. We can’t risk being found out as freaks.”

Pizza suddenly clogged Red’s throat. She swallowed. Freaks—yeah, that was about right.

Gingerly avoiding the hot plate, Snow picked up a piece of pizza, and took a dainty bite. “Oh, this is the fuel I’ve needed. I’ve been running on empty all afternoon.”

“Fuel!” Red gasped. “Oops.”

Snow grinned. “I knew you’d forget, so I ducked out and filled the tank while you were in the shower.”

“Thanks, you saved my sorry butt.” Where would she be without her sister?

“Mom will be home in a couple of hours. We’d better skate so she doesn’t catch us.”

“She’s on night shift,” Red said. “We still have a few hours.” Things had been the same for as long as Red remembered: Mom working night shifts in the emergency room at the hospital; them taking care of each other. It wasn’t that Mom didn’t care—she was barely earning enough to pay the crazy rent—one of the many reasons they always ate at home and only bought a drink or two if they went out. “I’ll grab my things.”

Of course, Snow already had her stuff in a tiny silver purse, slung across her shoulder.

Red dashed to her room and rummaged through her piles, throwing pieces into a black leather backpack trimmed with silver studs: wallet, mascara, and… She ducked back out of her room. “Have you seen my lipstick?”

“You’ve probably lost it in that pigsty you call a bedroom.” Snow was perched on the edge of her immaculately-made bed, reading on her phone. Probably the latest thriller—Detective Hardcastle and the Impossible Murder, or whatever. On the other side of the room, her pristine-white desk was empty except for a closed laptop and a neat line of pens. The room was cool, the way Snow liked it. Who needed air-con with her sister around? Without looking up, Snow fished into her purse and held up a lipstick. “Use mine.”

Red rolled her eyes. “Frosty pink hardly goes with my outfit. I was going for cherry-red.”

Snow looked up from her phone. “You could always try Mom’s spare one…” She bit her lip.

“The Revlon Red she keeps in—”

“—her bedside drawer,” Snow finished.

Their eyes met. Neither of them laughed.

Red’s heart banged against her ribcage. “Sure, why not?” She kept her hands clenched to stop them from trembling as she strode into Mom’s room. They’d been little last time they’d forced the lock on Mom’s secret drawer, but neither of them had ever forgotten their mother’s white-lipped fury.

Nor quenched their curiosity about why she’d been so mad.

Snow dashed after her. “No, Red…”

“It’s not as if Mom’s hiding state secrets.” Red tried the drawer. It was locked. She held out her hand. “Hairpin, Snow. Come on, we can’t let our childhood fears rule us.”

“You’ve been watching too many movies. A Swiss army knife is more effective for picking locks.” Snow whipped a pocket knife out of her purse and pulled out the toothpick attachment and a tiny hex key. “Move over.”

What the—?

Snow knelt in front of Mom’s bedside cabinet, hands shaking, and stuck the hex key into the lock. She bit her lip, pushed the toothpick in and jiggled it. The lock sprang open.

“Where’d you learn that?”

Snow put her phone on the bedside table. “YouTube.”

“And where’d you get that?” Red waved her hand at the knife.

Snow shrugged evasively. “Online.” She pulled the drawer open.

“I figured that. Where’d you get the money to buy it?”

Snow ignored Red’s question. “Her lipstick should be in here, somewhere.”

Red’s gaze fell to Snow’s phone. Her phone’s wallpaper was a picture of a tanned guy who looked like he belonged on a surfboard. She groaned. “Oh, man, have you been ogling that I.T. guy again?”

Snow blushed. “Krispin’s cute.”

“Yeah, and good with computers. But you snapping a shot like that is almost stalker-ish.”

“I think of it as art. Anyway, I’m hoping the school Internet goes out again.”

“Isn’t every girl?” When drop-dead-gorgeous Krispin—with his sun-bleached hair, caramel skin and warm brown eyes—had swaggered into the school library last week to fix the broken Internet connection, whispers had washed through the room like a tide hissing on sand.

Snow glanced up. “Shall we?”

Mom would kill them if she found out. Red let warmth seep through her to combat the prickle down her spine. She couldn’t let fear rule her. “Might as well… After all, we’re only looking for lipstick. Harmless, right?”

“Um yeah, harmless.”

She wished Snow wouldn’t gnaw her lip like that. Red eased the drawer open.

The lipstick was lying on top of a few old papers and a small leather-bound book with a lock on it. Red took out the lipstick and applied the tiniest bit to her lips, so Mom wouldn’t notice it’d been used. She snorted, gesturing at Mom’s drawer. “Looks pretty normal to me. Don’t see why Mom gets her knickers in a twist.”

Snow, still holding the Swiss army knife, stared at the book and papers. She licked her lips and gazed up at Red, eyes full of daring. “Let’s look.”

“It’s Mom’s private stuff, we really shouldn’t.” Red traced a finger over the soft black leather book cover. “Probably love letters from dad.”

“Yeah, but why would she keep love letters from a man she refuses to talk about? And why would she lock them up?”

Since their father had died, Mom had barely acknowledged they even had a dad. The only thing Red remembered about him dying was the weird skin disease he’d developed on his deathbed.

“What was he like?” Snow murmured. “Tell me what you remember.”

Red sighed. “He was fun, larger than life, always picking us up and spinning us around, taking us for horsey rides in the lounge. You know…”

“Yeah, I do know—that I don’t remember a thing. It sucks to be two years old when you lose a parent. A year older, like you were, and I might’ve held onto some shred of Dad.”

Every time Snow spoke of Dad, pain and longing filled her voice. Red squeezed Snow’s hand. “One quick look, then we’ll put everything back and get out of here.”

Snow laid the two envelopes and the leather book on Mom’s duvet. “Letters first,” she said, sliding a document with yellowed edges from an official-looking envelope.

Red held her breath as Snow held it under the light.

“It’s their marriage certificate,” Snow said. “But it’s weird.”

Red leaned in. The certificate featured an ornate gold seal of dragons with intertwined necks in the shape of a heart. There was fancy gold writing beneath the dragons. Mom’s familiar signature was signed in red ink. Their Dad’s was three crooked diagonal lines. No words. No name.

“Like werewolf claws in a bad horror movie,” Snow whispered. She traced the gold lettering: Semper iuncti in Draconia. “That’s Latin for Together forever in Draconia.”

Trust Snow to recognize Latin. At least one of them had paid attention in class. “What or where in the heck is Draconia?”

Snow shrugged and went to slide the marriage certificate back into the envelope.

“Wait,” Red held up her phone and snapped a shot. “I’ll hide it somewhere on my hard drive and delete it from my phone in case Mom checks it—I promise.”

Snow raised an eyebrow—something Red had never mastered. “Really? Your hard drive is almost as messy as your room. And your brain is messier than both.”

“True.” Red grinned.

The next envelope was smaller, with Mom’s name on it. Inside was a short note from Dad.

My dearest Hazel,

My heart burns for you. I’ll always be yours.

I know I’m sick, but no matter what shape I’m in, I’ll always love you.


Red picked up the worn, dark leather diary from Mom’s duvet, and examined the tiny brass lock. “Snow, can you open this?”

“Hmm, my hex key won’t work on that.” Snow pried the lock open with a hair pin. Two pretty luminescent discs shaped like petals and about the size of quarters fell out of the diary. Red held them up. They shimmered gold in the light.

Snow scrunched up her nose. “What are those?”

“Some sort of shell, I think. Like mother of pearl slivers.”

“Look, the book’s hollow.” Snow held it out. There weren’t any pages, only an empty compartment inside the covers. An old piece of paper was tucked into the liner with Kodak Premium Photography stamped on it.

So much for it being a diary. “What’s this photo of?” Red flipped it over. Mom was grinning, her arms around a handsome man dressed in a dragon costume. Red’s heart thrummed and heat shot through her like quicksilver. “That’s him! That’s Dad. I’d know that sandy-blond hair anywhere.” She passed the photo to Snow.

“Man, that’s some face-painting job,” Snow breathed, holding the photo with her fingertips as if it would shatter.

Red examined the shells again. “Look, these match his costume.”

Snow squinted at the photo. “It looks more like a bodysuit than something with shells stitched on, but yeah, they do. They’re the same color.” She snapped a photo with her phone, murmuring, “Mom actually looks happy. I can’t remember the last time I saw her like that. She’s usually so stressed.”

Red took a photo of the snapshot too. “We’d better get out of here, or we’ll have no chance to go dancing before she shows.” She put the photo and shells back in the fake book and clicked the lock shut. Then she tossed the book, letters and lipstick back into the drawer.

Snow took them out and rearranged them. “They were like that.”

“Thanks. How are we going to lock the drawer again?”

“Like this.” Snow thrust the hex key back into the lock and wiggled it. The lock clicked shut. She stashed her tools in her purse and stood.

How had her sister learned so much about lock picking? Red doubted it was from YouTube. And where had she got the money for those tools? All of their clothes were from thrift shops. It wasn’t as if they had spare cash lying around.

Smoothing her silver sequined tank top with her hands, Snow asked, “Is this too low cut?”

“No, it leaves a lot to the imagination.” Barely anything, but if Red said something, her sister would want to get changed again and they’d never get out of here.

“Yeah, but whose imagination?” Snow pouted. “It’s not as if I ever get a date.”

Red threw her head back and laughed. “I don’t care about a date. I just want to dance.

Dragon Shifters Hoard - Snow and Red Eileen Mueller A J Ponder Sneak Preview of opening chapters

Shifting Sands

The glass doors to the Shifting Sands were rattling on their hinges as Red pushed them open and pulled Snow inside. Rock music blasted Snow, the bass thrumming through her skin and rattling her bones. This place sure was a change from doing homework or sitting around reading Detective Hardcastle thrillers. They nudged their way through the throng toward the bar. Men kept giving her and Red the once over. Snow was sure Red barely noticed—her sister was in such a rush to hit the dance floor. Orange, blue and yellow lights pulsed in time to the beat. A strobe flashed across the crowd. The scent of beer and spirits hung in the air. They could probably get drunk off the fumes. That reminded her…

Snow pulled Red close, and cupped her hand over Red’s ear, yelling above the blaring music. “Please don’t drink booze tonight,” Snow said. “Not after what happened last time.” That night had ended with more than one thing in flames.

“I may be crazy, but I’m not deluded.” Red squeezed past two brunettes in miniskirts and knee-high boots. “Alcohol and I don’t mix.”

Yes, Red had sworn off the stuff, saying it made her veins turn to liquid fire, but Red was impetuous, and it made Snow nervous. And Mom nervous, too. Even though they’d grown up with Mom warning them they’d be in grave danger if anyone discovered their powers, sometimes Red let loose. Accidentally.

But not tonight. Snow would make sure of it. For the hundredth time, she wondered what life would be like if Dad was still alive.

“Anyway,” Red continued, “the way I dance, most people assume I’m drunk already.”

Well, yeah. Red was a little less inhibited than most. Okay, maybe a lot. But she always had a good time. Snow sighed. If only she could loosen up.

A bunch of underage guys from school were crowded around a table, sharing drinks and pretzels. “Want to join us?” a brown-haired guy from math class called, his eyes running over them both.

“Sure,” Red answered, tossing her hair.

Snow gripped her elbow hard. “Maybe later.” She flashed them a smile and Red a warning eyebrow as they pushed their way through the throng to the bar.

A plaid-shirted man grinned as they approached. “Want a drink, darlings?”

“No thank you,” Snow said, sidling away.

Her back hit something solid. A glass crashed to the floor and smashed, scattering shards.

A geek with a buzz cut, black-framed glasses and a Dungeons and Dragons T-shirt glared at her. “Now look what you made me do,” he snarled. “I’ve lost my drink and smashed a glass.”

“I’m sorry, it was an accident. I—”

“Hey, don’t talk to her like that,” Red snarled back, already in the geek’s face. “You heard her. She didn’t do it on purpose.”

People were turning and staring. The man in the plaid shirt sniggered. Snow wanted to melt into the floor. She bent down and picked up the shards. At least no one could see her down here. Maybe.

“Are you all right?” a guy asked Red, his tight surfer tee showing off the muscles in his broad back.

Typical. Guys always came waltzing in to help her sister.

“Sure, I’m fine.” Red flung a hand between Geek and Snow. “But she bumped him, and now he’s being a jerk.”

“Don’t I know you?” the guy in the surfer tee asked Red.

Red tilted her head. “Maybe.” She shrugged.

“Maybe I’d like to get to know you,” Geek purred.

What a loser.

“You’ll get to know my fist if you keep talking like that,” Red snapped.

Geek glowered, but the other guy just laughed and crouched down. Warm, tanned fingers touched Snow’s wrist. “Hey, let me help you.”

Cheeks burning, she glanced up. Gorgeous chocolate-brown eyes met hers. The guy took the shards from her hands. Oh gods, it was Krispin. His dazzling smile melted her bones.

“We’ll have this cleaned up in no time.” His rich deep voice made her melt even further.

Red crouched down to help. Krispin’s eyes widened as he glanced between her and Red. The strobe flickered over Krispin’s sun-bleached hair and lit up his even white teeth. “Don’t I know you both?”

Snow had no chance. All the boys liked Red. They were attracted to her like moths to a flame—and just as easily burned.

“I’m sure I remember you,” he yelled over the bass. “Where did we meet?”

Not a brilliant one-liner. “School,” Snow said, unable to force out a full sentence. She picked up more shards.

“You were fixing the school internet connection,” Red yelled back.

“Yeah, I’m good at connections.” He arched an eyebrow.

Oh freaking gods, his eyebrow arch was just like hers. Snow’s heart ratcheted up a notch.

“I’m Red and this is Snow.” Red glanced meaningfully at Snow. “Anyway, I’m off to dance.”

Krispin’s eyes followed Red as she sashayed into the crowd, then his gaze flicked back to Snow. “Would you honor me with a dance?”

Snow opened her mouth. She had to say something clever. Something witty. But her words died. She nodded, a lump the size of an iceberg in her throat, and stood there with the shards in her hands.

The broken glass in Krispin’s cupped hands glittered in the strobe light. “Here, give me that,” he said, “I’ll get rid of it.”

As Snow dropped the shards into his waiting hands, their fingers bumped, sending an electric jolt through her. Her ice power surged, shooting cold though her fingers.

He yanked his hand back. His eyes shot to hers, a tendril of wariness in them. “I’ll be back soon.” He strode over to a trash can.

She shook her tingling hands and wiped them on her skirt. Had he noticed her powers? She had to get a grip on herself.

“Hey,” someone bellowed. “My drink.” Geek thrust his sweaty face near hers, waving a hand at the beer seeping across the shiny black floor.

“I told you it was an accident. I didn’t mean to—”

Suddenly Krispin was there between them. He put a hand on Geek’s chest. “Be a gentleman, and back off.” He flipped out his phone and pulled ten bucks out of the flap, throwing it onto Geek’s table. “There. Get yourself another beer and leave my lady alone.”

My lady. A cool tidal wave crested inside Snow. She smiled at Krispin. “Thank you, that was kind.”

“No problem.” He placed his hand on her back and guided her toward the bar. “After you having to put up with that rotter, the least I can do is get you a drink.”

Her skin beneath his fingers tingled, all warm and fuzzy. She was seriously in trouble. She’d never felt her power radiating out of her back. This guy did something crazy to her. She really had to get a grip. Snow slid a glance at his attractive, smiling face. Had he noticed anything?

“What would you like?”

There was that bone-melting smile again. Snow slid onto a bar stool. “A lemon lime and bitters, thanks.”

He ordered their drinks and leaned on the counter, his bronzed bicep bulging as he raked a hand through his hair. She tried to keep her eyes off his body-tight tee. He totally rocked the surfer look. It hadn’t been her imagination. He was even more drool-worthy than in her photo.

Krispin turned to her. “I haven’t seen you here before.”

Another one-liner nearly as lame as What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Snow didn’t care. This was Krispin. And he was finally talking. To her.

He passed her drink and asked her something, but his words were drowned out by the music.

He placed his hand on her back, making her skin do that yummy thing again, and gestured past the dance floor. Krispin steered her past dingy tables, enormous throbbing speakers and a mass of writhing bodies. A flash of red hair whirled at the center of the crowd. Red looked like she was having a good time. And she hadn’t drunk anything, so she’d be fine on her own for a few minutes, wouldn’t she? Snow gnawed her lip.

“Are you okay?” Krispin asked, leading her to a door that Snow hadn’t noticed.

“Fine, thanks.”

He opened the door and held it, motioning her onto a stone patio surrounded by shrubbery on three sides. Wrought iron candles flickered in stained-glass jars on tiny tables. In the far corner of the patio, two couples sat at tables. One pair laughed, hands intertwined. The other couple clinked glasses, speaking in hushed voices then leaned in to kiss each other. Snow glanced back through the panes in the door at the flashing lights and dancing crowd. A few minutes outside wouldn’t hurt. Then she’d check on Red.

“It’s not as loud out here. Much easier to talk.” Krispin ushered her to a table far from the other couples.

Hang on, other couples. They weren’t a couple. She’d only just met him. Not that she’d mind… They sat down, facing each other. Snow took a gulp of her lemon lime and bitters. The bubbles went straight up her nose. She spluttered, spraying her drink all over the table and Krispin’s T-shirt. How mortifying. “Ah, sorry.” Her cheeks burned. “I seem to be having a bad night.”

He burst out laughing. “You can say that again. We’re lucky I wasn’t drowned. Still, just in case, I’ll fetch a life jacket. There must be one around here, somewhere.”

His laugh was so genuine that for the first time that night, Snow relaxed and grinned back. “Great first impression, huh?”

“Oh no, it’s a terrible second impression.”

Her heart fell.

Krispin continued, “Luckily, my first impression when you were studying in the library was a knockout. What were you reading? Wasn’t it something deep about mind anatomy, or something?”

Snow frowned. “What day were you there?” She knew exactly what she’d been reading the moment he walked in the door. Exactly how many hours it had been since she’d first laid eyes on him. One hundred and seventy-nine hours and 30 minutes approximately. Or nearly seven and a half days.

“Wednesday last week.”

“What time?” She arched an eyebrow.

“Hey, you can arch one brow too.” He smiled and took a chug of his beer, before finally answering her question. “About ten.”

“Then it was Anatomy of the Troubled Mind. I had a psych assignment due. That must’ve been it.” She’d had no such assignment. And, anyway, all of her assignments for the next three weeks were already done. She’d been researching how to control their powers. Not that she was about to tell that to him—or anyone else. Not even Red.

“Mental health in high school? That’s advanced.” He eyed her over the rim as he sipped from his glass. “Yes, I remember you being engrossed in that book. You looked cute. Pink shirt, cut-off jeans. Do you play any sport? You look like an athlete.”

He’d remembered what she was wearing? He’d noticed her. A good sign. “Nah.” She couldn’t really call her and Red’s magic practice sessions out in the woods sport, although they were physical enough. “What about you? What do you play?”

“Power sports.”

“What’s that?” She felt like a complete idiot.

He leaned in, as if he were sharing a secret. “Where I cast a spell on you with my powers and you fall for me.”

A delicious shiver ran down Snow’s back. A magic spell. Yeah, right. However, if there were such a thing as magic spells, he was well on the way to succeeding. Her heart skipped a beat. Was he toying with her, because he’d sensed her powers? She froze, not literally—no ice crept from her hands across the table and over her glass making it freeze and shatter. But she stilled, and sat staring at him without a twitch.

He laughed. “Are you all right? I was teasing. It’s not every day I get to chat with someone so beautiful.” His cheeks pinked and he busied himself with his beer.

Cute. He was blushing, actually blushing. And he thought she was beautiful.

He cleared his throat. “I would be honored if you’d dance with me.”

What quaint speech. “That’d be great.” It was time she checked on Red anyway.

They drained their glasses, and Krispin whipped Snow back through the door, past the crowd, to the dance floor. Red had kicked off her shoes, her flaming hair swirling as she spun and threw her legs out like she was doing karate. Around her, everyone from school was gyrating and waving their arms.

Typical. They were all having a good time, while she stood here, frozen. People always said she should loosen up. But she’d never want to lose control of her powers—like Red sometimes did.

Krispin glanced at the crowd, then turned to Snow, grinning, the dimple in his cheek working its magic on her. He gently took Snow’s hand and enticed her onto the dance floor.

A shot of nervous cold leaked from her fingers. Had he noticed? She smiled, the way social media said you were supposed to, coyly looking up at him.

He smiled back. “You like dancing?” It wasn’t the most romantic of lines. Nor was it the worst, especially as her tongue was stuck, unable to say anything.

She nodded. Time to focus on him and the music, and have fun. And ignore Red, who had jumped on table and was gyrating to the beat, a crowd of yelling guys around her. Puhleese.

Krispin’s eyes roved over Red. “Your sister has an, ah, unusual dance style.”

Snow grinned. “I call that move the egg-beater.”

He grinned back. “Egg-beater. I’m not sure I’ve seen one of those before.”

Snow flashed a grin. She was here, with a guy she’d drooled over for a week. She had to get a grip and relax. As the music pulsed though her and they started to dance, she let herself go, just a little. Krispin was a good old-fashioned dancer, twirling Snow in his arms and flashing her smiles that could melt the iceberg that’d sunk the Titanic.

The guys around Red were now tossing peanuts at her and cheering. She flicked her long red mane over a shoulder and threw pouty kisses at them, swaying her hips like she was trying to dislocate them.

Even though everyone was still dancing, they were all staring now. Even Krispin. Snow didn’t blame him. She was staring too, waiting to see if Red lost it. So much for them keeping a low profile.

Snow’s phone alarm buzzed. It was time to get home—before Mom got in, discovered them gone, and had kittens. “Sorry, gotta run,” she yelled to Krispin over the music—a heavy number that had Red bouncing her head up and down like a pigeon on fire.

“Just five minutes more?” Krispin asked, giving her another winning smile. “Or could I buy you another drink?”

“Sorry, we have to be somewhere.” Snow pushed through the crowd, Krispin trailing her to the table Red was dancing on. She shoved through the throng of guys, and grabbed Red’s leg, yelling, “Come on Red. We have to go.”

“I’ve got to find my shoes,” Red yelled back. She slugged back a juice and clambered off the table to guys cheering and others groaning that she’d finished.

While Red was scrabbling under the table, Krispin pulled out his phone. “Before you go, we should friend each other.”

Well, it couldn’t hurt, could it? He’d been so nice to her tonight. Until he’d been distracted by Red. And, with a show like that, who’d blame him? She slipped out her phone, opened social media and friended him on the spot. What a cute profile image. Even drenched in rain, he looked good.

Red jammed her shoes on and joined them, making serious googly eyes at Krispin. What was she doing? Trying to edge in on Snow’s action? Not that calling dibs on guys was a thing, but it would be nice if Red backed off from this one.

Krispin’s eyes flicked over Red, then he met Snow’s gaze. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Thanks for the, um, drink. Sorry you had to wear it.”

He laughed. “It was my pleasure.” His chocolate eyes met hers, making her pulse pound.

This guy’s smiles were addictive.

“I’ll see you soon, too,” Red purred, tossing her wild mane over her shoulder again.

Not if Snow had anything to do with it. “Gotta run,” Snow said. She practically dragged her sister away from Krispin.

“Hurry up.” Snow strode through the busy tables toward the door. “If Mom realizes we’ve been out, she’s going to be so mad.”

“Come on then,” Red put on a show of speed, racing past the bouncers, out the doors of the Shifting Sands, and into the street.

Snow had to hurry to keep up with her. “Don’t be like that, Red. It’s me who should be mad. After all, you were making moony eyes at Krispin.”

Red yawned. “Krispin? You can have him. He’s not my type.”

As if Red had a type. She flirted with everyone with a Y chromosome.

Snow tugged her jacket tighter around her and glanced along the street. Traffic was sparse. A group of guys were hanging around one of the two alleys across the street; otherwise, hardly anyone was around. It was later than she’d thought. “If we want to beat Mom home, we’d better take the shortcut to the car.”

Red checked her phone and grimaced. “Oops, yeah. This is gonna be tight.”

They cut across the road and marched straight to the furthest alley. Snow peered between the brick buildings into the gloom. Nobody was loitering down this shortcut. “Come on, let’s go.” They dashed along the narrow lane, their footfalls snapping on the concrete sidewalk and bouncing off the walls.

Boots thudded along the alley. Snow cast a glance over her shoulder. Murky figures appeared—four guys in leather coats were stalking down the alley behind them.

“Hurry,” she hissed to Red.

“On it,” Red answered a spark flitting from a finger as they increased their pace.

Despite their burst of speed, the guys were quicker. Snow and Red edged to one side, walking in single file to let them past.

Just as the guys had passed them and Snow was breathing a sigh of relief, one turned and grabbed the strap of her purse, yanking it tight across her body.

She spun. Her hand shot out and grasped his wrist. Goosebumps skittered along her forearms as tendrils of power flowed from her fingertips.

“Ow!” He let go and shook his arm.

Shoot. She’d given him an ice burn.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. One of his friends grinned, his teeth a flash of white in the dark, as his blade slashed toward her.

Snow and Red is available on Amazon on a 99c special introductory offer or free in Kindle Unlimited.

If you like dragons, romance and danger, enter the simmering underworld of Pinevale in the Dragon Shifters’ Hoard today!


New Riders of Fire Dragon Masters Books

Riders of Fire Dragon Masters

New Riders of Fire Dragon Masters Books

Did you see the recent cover reveal of Dragon Mage? And the sneak preview of the first chapters?

Master Giddi’s dangerous adventures have grown so rich and deep that they needed to be split into two books!  Dragon Mage, book 2 and Master Mage book 4. Dragon Mage covers some of his teenage escapades, while Master Mage takes us on his dangerous rise to power and the tragic mistakes he makes. If only Giddi wasn’t so impulsive. Or so powerful.


So, id Dragon Mage has been split into books 2 & 4, what’s book 3 about? And what is the title?

It’s time to update the Riders of Fire Dragon Masters series.

Riders of Fire Dragon Masters:

Dragon Pirate is born

Dragon Pirate Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 3


A vengeful dragon.

A lucrative trade in a damnable cargo.

And a pirate captain with nothing left to lose.

Follow the Scarlet Hand in his rise to power.

Yes, Dragon Pirate is book 3. The Scarlet Hand is up to no good. He’s building a fleet of pirate ships to scour the Naobian Sea. He’s also made a shifty deal with Emperor Haakin of Metropoli, but by the First Egg, he’d better watch it, because the Emperor and his adviser General Vizza don’t play nice!




Riders of Fire

It’s been a challenge writing the prequels when I already know what will happen to many of these characters during Dragon War & Sea Dragon. However, it has also been a pleasure to dive deeper into their pasts and find out what makes each one tick.

I hope you enjoy Riders of Fire and the additions to the Riders of Fire Dragon Masters series and the rich backstory that unfolds.

Adrenaline-fueled adventure on dragonback awaits you! So, saddle up and ride!

Dragon Mage – Sneak Preview Chapters

Dragon Mage

Dragon Mage – Riders of Fire Dragon Masters 2

an epic fantasy YA adventure set in Dragons' Realm.

A young dragon mage with raw, untamed power. A trapped sea dragon that only he can free. And a vindictive trainer ruthlessly plotting to kill him.

Giddi, a powerful young mage, can mind-meld with dragons at will, making him the only dragon mage in Dragons’ Realm. If he wasn’t so brash and impulsive, he might amount to something.

It would help if his missing father could train him. Instead, he’s stuck with Starrus—the sole mage who knows his father’s whereabouts. But his arrogant trainer wants him dead.

As if fighting fearless pirates, freeing a sea dragon and battling a kraken isn’t enough, Starrus abandons Giddi in the hot desert sands of the Wastelands, leaving him as carrion for the Robandi Silent Assassins…

By the dragon gods! How will he survive? Will he find his father?

Or will he die trying?

Feel a dragon roaring beneath you and magic crackling under your skin. Unleash your power with Dragon Mage!

Dragon Mage: Opening Chapters

Prologue – A Year Ago

Giddi caressed Ma’s hand, his sit bones aching from perching on the hard chair next to her bed all night. He’d stayed up, keeping vigil. There was no one to relieve him, so, apart from short privy breaks and grabbing food for both of them, he’d been at his mother’s bedside for days.

At least now she was sleeping peacefully. Her breathing was so quiet he could hardly hear it, like the whisper of a faint breeze through a strongwood on an almost calm day.

Crisp footfalls sounded in the hallway. The bedroom door opened. Master Mage Balovar entered and closed the door quietly. “How is she?” he asked, nodding at Ma, his dark eyes concerned.

Ma’s eyelids fluttered. “Hello, Balovar,” she said, her voice as weak as a hatchling’s wings.

Balovar leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead. “How are you doing today?”

She smiled, her eyes drifting shut and her hand slipping out of Giddi’s onto the quilt.

Balovar pulled up another chair, gingerly placing it next to Giddi’s. “A messenger bird from your father arrived for Starrus today,” he said quietly. “This time, he enclosed something for you.”

“He did?” Giddi burst out, then hushed as Ma stirred.

Pa had finally contacted him. It’d been moons since he or Ma had heard from his father. A year ago, when Starrus had returned from a secret quest without Giddi’s father, he’d told them Gideon—Starrus’ trainer and Giddi’s father—had been delayed on secret business.

Maybe Pa was finally coming home.

Balovar passed a piece of creased parchment to him. Giddi was so excited, he nearly dropped it. He ran his thumb across the imprint of a flame in the honey-yellow wax seal. Yes, it was Pa’s, all right. Eagerly, he broke it.

Dear Giddi,

I’ve hurt my hand, but I trust you can still read my script. My apologies for passing this message on via Starrus, but he’s the only one I trust to deliver it safely. If anyone else knows my whereabouts, I’m in risk of being endangered.

Son, you’re of age now.

Giddi puffed up his chest. He was eleven years’ old, and proud of it.

Because I can’t be with you, I’d like Starrus to train you in my absence. I’ve taught him everything I know, and he’s an honorable man. Heed him, and learn well. I hope to be back with you and your ma soon.

Until your flames light up the night sky,

Your beloved,


‘Back with you and your ma soon?’ Giddi could scarcely believe it. Ma had always told Giddi that Pa would come back, but he’d been gone twelve moons, now.

Hang on. If Pa was coming home soon, why would Starrus need to train him? Giddi sighed. Pa’s words were a platitude to make him feel better, not a promise.

Balovar leaned in, “Do you mind?” He plucked the letter from Giddi’s hand and read it aloud to Ma, his voice a gentle murmur.

Then he passed Giddi back the letter and stood. He tousled Giddi’s hair—as if he were a littling.

When would adults see he was grown? Giddi didn’t need to be petted like a newborn dragonet. He rolled his eyes at Balovar’s back as the master mage turned back to Ma.

“I hope you get better soon.” Balovar nodded at Ma, then strode to the door. On the threshold, he paused. “You know you’re like a son to me, Giddi. Come and see me if you need anything.” He turned the doorknob. “You can start training tomorrow with Starrus. I’ll meet you both in the clearing at noon.”

As Balovar shut the door, Ma stirred and tried to sit up. She coughed, spasms rattling her chest, then slumped even deeper into the pillows. Her eyes bright with tears, she whispered, “I miss Gideon.”

All these moons, Ma had never said that once. She’d comforted Giddi, told him Pa would be home again soon. Never once had she shown sadness.

Giddi squeezed her hand. “Like you said, Ma, he’ll be home soon.” Although, from the sound of things, that was highly unlikely. “Don’t worry. Just rest, so you can get better.”

“I want to see him again.” Tears spilled from her eyes. She grasped the covers. “Find him, Giddi. Find your father.” Her chest rattled with a mighty spasm, her head lolled to one side and her breathing stilled.

“Ma.” Giddi picked up her limp hand and felt her wrist for a pulse.


His heart thundering, he touched her neck. Still nothing.

And her chest was still. No breath ghosted from her lips.

“Ma, no!” he whispered.

Eyes stinging, he placed her hand back on the quilt and kissed her cheek. “Good bye, Ma.” He was enveloped by the scent of her lavender soap.

Her last words burned through him. Find him, Giddi. Find your father.

He had to be brave. He had to find Pa.

Bound for Naobia

 Giddi sighed and dipped his mop in the battered pail. He wrung it out and shoved it back and forth across the bloodstained deck. Gods, this was a gruesome job. It had been bad enough seeing the needless slaughter in battle. They’d barely cleared the corpses of dead pirates and sailors away before Starrus had started ordering him about, putting on airs in front of the ship’s captain as if Giddi were a slave—not a mage in training. It was as if Starrus was oblivious to the carnage, the dead people, the heavy weight of grief weighing on Giddi’s chest.

Luckily the captain was goodhearted, not like the Scarlet Hand. The pirate’s hands had been tanned, not red but it didn’t take much imagination to guess how he’d earned his name. Rumors said the new scourge of the Naobian Sea ate the hearts of his enemies. After seeing the bloodshed and carnage from their short battle today, Giddi believed it. The man was ruthless. He shuddered, suppressing the memory of a young green rider whose body had been sheared in two on dragonback, he and his injured dragon falling into the sea for the sharks to devour.

Giddi shrugged and kept on mopping. There was nothing for it. Hopefully his luck would change when they reached Naobia.

Sailors called to each other as they reattached the rigging to the newly-mended main mast. It’d been lashed together with ropes after a green dragon’s tail had caught in the rigging during their battle earlier that day. Without the mast and sails, the ship had lolled on the sea like a good-for-nothing layabout, rising and falling on the swell, a miasma of burned flesh and charred timber hanging over it.

A few green dragons darted around the boat, their riders catching ropes from the sailors below and leaning out at daring angles to attach them to the spars or throw them to sailors up the masts.

Goren, leader of the Naobian green guards, wheeled on his emerald dragon, calling out to the other dragon riders. He’d been at it for the past hour, and his voice was nearly hoarse.

Giddi mind-melded with Goren’s dragon, Rengar. “Why doesn’t he mind-meld with their dragons instead of yelling? That’d save his voice.”

“The riders and dragons can’t hear him when he mind-melds. Only I can,” Rengar replied. “We can hear you, of course, because you’re the dragon mage. Other than that, we only hear our own riders. Besides, sometimes Goren prefers to bellow to give himself an air of authority. He’s rather young to be leader of the green guards, you know.”

Even though Goren was young, he was at least ten summers older than Giddi, and the dark-haired dragon rider barely needed more of an air of authority. There was a toughness about him, as if he’d grown up on the streets, that made Giddi more than a little wary.

Finally, the sails were furled and ready, and the crew awaiting the captain’s instructions. The captain prowled along the damp deck, running an eye over the shrouds.

Giddi plunked his mop back in the old wooden pail and leaned against the railing. He mopped his brow. It was much warmer on the Naobian Sea than back home in Great Spanglewood Forest. Thank the Egg he’d stowed his mage cloak in a hammock below deck.

“Trim the sails,” the captain bellowed, “but don’t put too much strain on that mast. It has to get us to Naobia.”

Sailors sprang into action, heaving on the ropes. The mast creaked ominously as they unfurled the mainsail. The soot-stained fabric snapped and caught in the breeze; the edges charred from the fiery breath of Scarlet Hand’s sea dragon.

Giddi shook his head. Who’d have thought a pirate could tame a sea dragon.

The captain stalked along the deck, inspecting his crew’s handiwork. Giddi snatched up his mop and swabbed another dark stain on the planking. As the captain passed him, water crested over the side of his pail and splashed the captain’s boots and breeches. Odd. Giddi hadn’t noticed the ship tilting on the swell.

The captain spun, his jaw snapping shut, and glared at Giddi.

“Sorry sir, I must’ve kicked the bucket.” He grinned and added, “Not metaphorically, but literally.” Although his foot hadn’t been anywhere near it.

The captain’s face broke into a wry smile. “Come on, boy don’t be sloppy. You’re not drowning those stains, you’re cleaning them.” He shook the water from his boots and strode off.

There was a muffled snigger behind Giddi’s back. He spun. Sure enough, he hadn’t nudged the pail at all. Starrus was grinning, his hands twitching. His flaming trainer had used his magic to slop water over the captain on purpose.

Scowling, Giddi dunked his mop and kept swabbing.

Later that afternoon as Giddi was tying off a rope on the boom, the end of the rope whipped out and lashed his wrist. A nasty red welt rose on his inner arm. By the flaming First Egg, it stung. As he rubbed his stinging flesh, his eyes meet Starrus’ gaze.

There was a malicious glint in his trainer’s eye. “I hope you’re all right,” Starrus said. “There’s not much you can do when ropes catch in a gust of wind.”

What gust of wind?

Starrus always played dirty when no one was looking. And no one was here to reprimand him. They were far from the Mage Council or any other mages—except Master Mage Findal, the Naobian mage who’d been kidnapped and was on the Scarlet Hand’s ship heading for the Wastelands. Starrus was right—there was nothing Giddi could do.

Giddi snatched the end of the rope again, determined to ignore Starrus. It slid through his fingers, burning his palm and leaving a trail of torn skin. Giddi’s belly burned with rage. He thrust out his injured hand. “Look what you did.” His anger surged, rushing down his limbs. Energy coiled in his palm and wind gusted from his fingers across the deck.

Starrus, caught by the sudden gale, flew backward, slamming his back on the rail, then landed on the deck on his backside. He clambered to his feet, face thunderous.

Giddi hastily tied off the rope, picked up a pail, and strode toward the newly-appointed first mate. The last one had been buried at sea only a few hours ago. The first mate was talking to a sailor who was bent over a barrel, nailing a lid back on.

“How long until we get to shore, sir?” Giddi asked.

The first mate squinted. Shading his eyes with his hand, he looked up at the creaking rigging. “The best part of five days, depending on whether the mast holds. If not, it could take a week or longer.”

Giddi groaned. A week with Starrus? These past few hours already felt like forever.


On Giddi’s third day on the merchant ship, the wind died. The ship’s sails drooped, hanging flaccid. The timbers of the ship gave the odd creak, but the shrouds hung slack. Occasionally, a small puff of breeze made a sail flutter, and the crew hopefully stirred, just to have their hope die as the breeze did.

The sky was a clear and cloudless carpet of endless cerulean-blue. Giddi yearned to soar on dragonback over the sea. No such luck. He was still here, trapped under Starrus’ watchful gaze. There was no glade nearby to wander off into, no clearing where he could escape unnoticed for a few moments of peace. Nowhere to go where Starrus couldn’t find him—only this shrotty ship.

The ample-bellied cook ambled out of the galley toward the captain, cursing under his breath. His ruddy complexion was marred by a ferocious scowl, the paleness of his sun-bleached eyebrows almost comical. “By the shrotty lice-infected tail of a cranky dog. Captain, the hold is overrun with rats. They’ve eaten the hardtack, all but a wee barrel, and dirtied our supply of flour.”

“What of the dried beef and salted pork?” the captain asked.

“We used the last of the beef yesterday and a rat gnawed through the last barrel of pork. The water ran out of the hole, then they got in to soil it, so now it stinks of rat dung.”

The depth of the captain’s scowl matched the cook’s, but his was anything but comical. “How did this happen? I thought someone was on hold duty.”

“Ook was killed in the battle, sir, and no one thought—”

“Of course, no one thought.” The captain sighed. “I’m the only one who thinks around here. How bad is it?”

“We’ve enough for a bite of supper tonight and some broth in the morning, sir.” The cook yanked off his hat and wrung it between his hands. “We’re still at least three days from shore.” He gazed at the limp sail. “If not more.”

“All hands to the oars,” the captain bellowed.

Sailors rushed down into the hold.

“My oarsmen will be hungrier than a nesting dragon with all that hard work.”

Giddi nodded. Pulling oars would be much more strenuous than running up the rigging and trimming a few sails.

The captain spun on his heel, all business. “You two!” He waved a hand at Starrus and Giddi. “Get down to the hold too.”

His straw-blond hair glinting in the sun, Starrus drew himself up, puffing out his chest as if he were a master mage. “I hardly think that the best use of a mage’s talents is pulling on the oars to get us to shore.” He quirked an eyebrow gazing down his nose at the captain.

“I know that,” the captain snapped. “Which is why you’re on rat-killing duty. If we can’t find anything else, at least we can eat rat.”

Ugh. Giddi’s stomach churned.

Starrus reeled back, grimacing. “Surely you can’t expect us to—”

“You’ll do what I ask, and you’ll eat what you’re given. Now, get to it, and stop those rats from ruining whatever else we have left.” The captain disappeared down the hatch to the main hold.

Green guards swooped down to the ship, taking turns to alight and let their riders down to help with the oars. Goren gave them a grim nod as he and his team of riders descended into the hold to have their turn at the oars. Their dragons wheeled back into the sky above the becalmed ship.

Cook shrugged. “The food’s kept down there.” He gestured at the aft hatch. “I’ll get back to the galley and scrape together something for when the men finish their shift. Bring me up what you can salvage.”

Starrus flourished a hand at the rickety ladder leading down the narrow hole into the hold.

Giddi grabbed the rungs and headed down into the gloom. When he was halfway down, Starrus’ boot landed on his back. Giddi tumbled down the rungs, smacking his shoulder and hip, and landed on the planks with a thud that knocked the wind out of him.

Why, of all the stinkiest tricks! Anger burning through his belly again, he scrambled to his feet. He couldn’t dare let a single spark slide from his fingertips. He’d be tried for insubordination. He was only a lowly trainee mage; Starrus was his better.

Giddi settled for a snort and let a tiny ball of green mage flame flare from his fingers. He gently set it free. The mage light bobbed around the stinking, stifling hold, casting an eerie glow over an assortment of barrels, bolts of cloth, chests, and jars. Ominous squeaking and the skitter of scurrying feet made Giddi’s back ripple with goose flesh. It wasn’t that he didn’t like rats…

Gods, it was warm down here. The air was fetid with the stench of rat droppings. The taste clung to the roof of his mouth. Jammed itself down his throat, making his stomach roil.

Starrus’ boots thunked as he clambered off the ladder and leaped to the deck. “That was a bit clumsy of you. Still, accidents can’t be helped. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Giddi refrained from rubbing his throbbing shoulder, not wanting to give Starrus the pleasure of knowing he’d hurt him. “I’m fine.”

Red eyes ventured out from the shadows behind a chest, gleaming in the glow of Giddi’s mage light. A tail disappeared down the center of a bolt of gold-and-blue striped fabric.

Giddi held his hand high, more light flaring from his fingers.

There was a shrill squeak. Suddenly, a horde of rats scampered out of their hiding spaces from behind barrels and chests, the patter of their feet drowning out Giddi’s thundering heart. The hold seethed as they raced over a sack of flour that had been gnawed open, the contents littered with dark droppings. Sharp teeth gleamed in the dark. Vermin swarmed over bolts of cloth and skittered across trunks, a massive, furry tide.

Light flared from Starrus’ fingers. “Kill the shrotty vermin,” he rasped and flung a bolt of green flame. His trainer’s mage flame hit a rat, blasting a hole in its side. The rat dropped to the planking, its body smoking. Others squeaked and fled, scampering behind trunks and barrels, worming their way through tattered bales of cloth. One dived into the half-open sack, and others followed, until the sack twitched and bulged like a dying corpse.

Starrus thrust his hands out and set the sack ablaze. It crackled, the scent of charred meat filling the hold. He closed his fingers into his fist and the flames died, leaving a pile of smoking flesh, fur and ash.

Giddi’s eyes watered and bile rose in his throat. He coughed, trying to swallow his gorge. He flung out a finger and shot a bolt of fire at a rat slinking along a beam on the hull. Engulfed in flame, it landed on a bale of golden cloth which flared to life, burning with a vengeance. Giddi twisted his fingers, pulling the energy back inside himself. The flames died.

A rat skittered along the ceiling and launched itself at Starrus. The rodent sank its teeth into his trainer’s shoulder. Starrus bellowed. Giddi threw a tiny fireball at the rat and its body fell at Starrus’ feet, twitching and reeking of mage flame. Three more took its place, leaping at his trainer, but this time, Starrus was ready. Hands out, Giddi’s trainer let out a swathe of blistering fire that killed all three rats. He mopped his brow then extinguished the burning carcasses. “Filthy vermin,” Starrus snarled. He kicked one of the rat carcasses across the hold. It thudded against a trunk, spraying ash and charred fur.

Giddi spun as a rat scampered across his boot. Flame seared from his fingers. The rodent’s fur lit up like a ghostly green halo. The rat’s shrill squeal rang through the hold, nearly slicing his ears in two, then it was silent.

Five rats rushed at Giddi, their high-pitched shrieks ringing in his ears. His pulse pounded. Energy boiled in his core and coursed through his arm. He thrust his hand out and a bolt of flame shot out of each fingertip, the luminescent green light making Giddi squint as it hit the rats and neatly sliced off each off their heads. The headless carcasses ran in circles, their necks cauterized by the mage flame and stinking of cooked flesh. Then they dropped dead. Giddi spun to fend off another attack, flinging out his hand and severing another five rat’s heads.

“How in the egg’s name did you do that?” Starrus gaped. “Have you been holding back?”

Of course, he’d been holding back. Starrus was so jealous, even the slightest display of power had his trainer cracking down on him. And of course, they had to control the fire or they’d set the ship alight.

Giddi swallowed, his throat as tight as a hangman’s noose. “I don’t know. No, sir.” He stared at his hands, hoping he looked perplexed. “It just happened.”

“So, you didn’t even try?” Starrus sneered.

Giddi shrugged and spun as another wave of rats leaped from a bale of cloth at him. He blasted the rats backwards into the side of the hull with a gust of wind that also knocked Starrus sideways. His trainer hit a pile of barrels with a sickening crunch.

“Are you all right, sir?”

“Of course I am,” Starrus snapped, nursing his hip. He stalked over to the ladder and clambered up the rungs to perch halfway up. He narrowed his eyes at Giddi. “I’ll supervise your training from here. By the time I count to thirty, I want twenty rats dead.”

Starrus began to count in slow, measured tones. Flame danced from Starrus’ fingertips illuminating the hold as the rats charged Giddi. His trainer made no move to kill them, counting in an icy monotone that made Giddi’s neck prickle.

A rat leaped at Giddi’s leg, teeth bared. Giddi smote its head off then slit the gut of another with a burst of flame.

By the time Starrus had reached twenty-five, Giddi had only killed ten rats.

He mopped his face. “Sir, could we swap places? I’m exhausted.”

“Ten more to kill in five seconds. Twenty-six…” Starrus kept counting, flame dancing at his fingertips, a nasty smile on his face.

Giddi spun, shooting flame, but the rats kept coming.

When Starrus reached thirty, he started from zero all over again.

Giddi soon lost count of how many times Starrus had reached thirty and how many rats he’d killed. He slumped against a barrel, panting, sweat dripping down his neck. “Could I please have a rest? Or a swig of water?” He motioned at the waterskin hanging from his trainers’ belt.

Starrus smiled and sent a plume of mage flame toward Giddi’s boot. Giddi jumped aside and the barrel exploded into flame, the stench of burning rum roiling through the hold. Giddi swayed, the fumes making him dizzy.

“Sorry, I was aiming for a rat.” Starrus said. Smiling grimly, he extinguished the flame.

Last time Giddi had checked, he hadn’t resembled a rat in the slightest. For the sake of the First Egg, the sooner he was off this ship, the better. He pursed his lips and staggered behind a wall of chests shoulder high, to the darkest corner of the hold.

His mage light reflected on hundreds of gleaming pinpoints of light. Holy dragon smoke! He let his mage light flare higher. The rats had shredded huge bales of cloth. Hundreds of rats of all sizes were scurrying away from the green luminescence. He’d found their nest.

The sight of the nest and the injustice of Starrus’ treatment rankled, making Giddi seethe. He channeled his anger, letting power course through his arms, and set the nest and every rat alight. The mage fire blazed like a funeral pyre, the cloth and squealing rats engulfed in licking tongues of flame that devoured them. For a moment, Giddi wished it was Starrus who was aflame.

His cheeks burned with shame. He’d never had such vile thoughts before. He monitored the fire, making sure the ship’s timbers didn’t catch, and quenched it, reeling the sathir back inside himself until the last flame sputtered and died.

He stood for a long moment, casting mage light over the charred remains. Sweat soaking through his shirt, he was so exhausted he could only summon a faint yellow glow—yellow, the color of a beginner. In a flash, he was back in Fieldhaven at the archery tournament where he’d met Anakisha and been so excited to compete that he’d accidentally let a wall of green flame rip at the target. He shook his head. If only he’d kept control—if only he’d hidden his abilities—his trainer wouldn’t be so venomous. With a stab, he realized he’d just made the same mistake again.

Giddi shrugged and shone his pale-yellow light into the corners. Not a single rat was twitching. All dead.

He stood, his breath rasping, gathering his strength. His insides were hollow, his power depleted. Giddi wanted to curl up on a soft pallet and sleep. But Starrus was waiting, so he stood and breathed, counting until he’d inhaled a hundred times.

Now that the rats were still, through the bulkhead he heard the splash of the oars and soft chant of the sailors as they heaved. He massaged his shoulder which was still throbbing where Starrus had kicked him as they’d descended into the hold. That seemed like a lifetime ago.

Slowly the soles of Giddi’s feet began to tingle as he drew in new energy from his surroundings. With every breath that rasped through his aching lungs, Giddi let the life force of the sea and the air around him trickle back into his aching body. His fingers tingled. Slowly his lungs stopped aching. Burnout—he’d never been this close before, but then again, he’d never released that much sathir with such wild abandon. He’d contained his talents, worried others would be scared of a boy with so much raw power. Worried his trainer would hold back and not reveal his precious secret—the secret that drove Giddi to obey him.

Slowly the well of sathir in his belly replenished until he had a humming coil in his middle. The stench of charred rat flesh coated his mouth. He spat and stole out from behind the wall of sea chests.

Starrus was still sitting halfway up the ladder, languidly examining his nails. “Oh, there you are, boy. Are we done?” His trainer stretched out a hand and took one last look at his manicured fingernails—nails that had likely never seen a pail or mop, nor done a day’s honest labor.

Giddi picked his way through the smoke-hazed hold, his boots slipping more than once on burnt rat corpses—the squishes underfoot making him shudder.

He nodded at Starrus, too tired to speak. Hopefully, his trainer would be happy with him now.

Starrus pointed at a chest. “You missed one.” A nose poked out from behind the chest, twitching. Starrus aimed a thin stream of mage flame at the final rat and killed it. “Next time, make sure you get them all.” He turned and clambered up the ladder.

Giddi gaped at the ungrateful wretch’s back, his fingers twitching with temptation. Gods, what was he thinking? He’d never wanted to blast anyone before, let alone hit someone in the back like a coward. Starrus brought out the worst in him. Giddi grabbed the rungs and climbed the ladder. It was ironic: trainers were supposed to tease the best out of you.

Starrus scrambled out of the hold and Giddi followed, squinting in the bright sun.

“How’s the situation down there?” the captain asked.

Giddi remained silent, letting his trainer do the talking.

Starrus grimaced. “Not good, sir. The rats are fine—we killed them all—but many of your goods have perished and there aren’t any decent foodstuffs left.”

We killed them all! Giddi refrained from snorting. Starrus had only dealt with a handful.

“I was afraid the food was spoiled.” The captain shook his head and yelled to the first mate, “Bring them some lines, so they can do something useful.”

Starrus smiled ingratiatingly. “Captain, if you have a spare sack, I can volunteer my trainee to clean up the rats and toss them into the sea.”

He what?!

The captain ran an appraising gaze over Giddi. “Good idea, but don’t throw the carcasses overboard. And when he’s done, you may choose a finely-carved chest as a token of my appreciation.”

“Thank you, sir.” Starrus’ smile was as oily as roast eel. And twice as stinky as a raw one.

Overhead, Rengar furled her wings, her emerald scales flashing as she dived down to the ocean. She plunged her neck in the water, then backwinged and ascended in a spray of water, a silver fish flapping in her dripping jaws.

The first mate came up to the captain, a sack in his hands. “Here you go, Captain.”

“What’s good enough for a dragon is good enough for us.” The captain reached inside and handed Starrus a short stick that had twine wrapped around it with barbed hooks on the end. The captain leveled a gaze at Giddi. “We’ll need the rats as bait. It’s time you both caught us some fish.”

A Fine Catch


When Giddi emerged from the hold with a sack of burnt rats, the captain handed him a fishing line. “With no wind, it’ll take us longer to get to shore than we thought.” He gave a grim chuckle. “We’ll have no choice but to start eating each other unless we catch some fish.”

Giddi had fond memories of fishing with his father when he was a littling, before Pa had disappeared on his quest. He smiled, remembering.

It was a hot summer’s day. Giddi and Pa sat on the edge of the riverbank watching the fish flit about the swimming hole.

“How old are you now, son?” Pa asked, a cheeky twinkle in his eye. “Seven summers? Eight? Old enough to catch us a tasty supper?”

“C’mon, Pa.” Giddi poked his father’s ribs, making Pa twitch. “Stop teasing. You know I’m already nine summers.” He puffed out his chest and thumped it. “I’ve been practicing. Watch this.” Giddi held up his fingers and shot a thin stream of mage fire at a rock on the far side of the bank. A spray of sparks ricocheted off the rock and fell onto the surface of the water, making the fish scatter as if they’d been stung.

“Nice flame, there, but you’ll never catch a meal like that, boy.” Pa laughed. “I’ll show you a trick.” Pa took off his boots and stockings and rolled up his breeches, then dangled his legs off the edge of the riverbank, wriggling his toes in the water. “If you hang your toes in here long enough, an eel will come out from under the bank to have a nibble and then you’ll be able to catch one.”

 Giddi arched his eyebrows. “Are you serious?”

“I’m serious.” Pa’s mouth twitched.

Giddi rolled up his breeches and dunked his toes in the water. Even though the day was warm, the water was chilly. “By the dragon gods, it’s nippy Pa.”

“Excuse my pun, son, but nippy is the last thing you want when you’re luring eels,” Pa teased.

Giddi wriggled his toes, and sure enough, after a while a large eel stuck its head out from under the bank, nosing around his foot.

“Quick, pull your feet—”

“Ow!” Giddi yanked his feet onto the bank and examined the bite on the edge of his big toe. “It’s bleeding, Pa.”

“Now,” Pa urged, “use your mage flame.” He yanked his feet above the water. The eel reared up out of the river, jagged jaws wide, trying to snap at Pa’s feet. “Quick, son.”

Giddi sent a flaming bolt of mage fire at the eel’ s head. The blast hit its head behind the eyes, instantly killing it. As its body slumped into the water, Pa reached an arm into the river and grabbed it. Although the eel was dead, its body twitched and contorted in his father’s hand, lashing his arm with its tail.

Giddi shied back.

“It’s all right, lad. They always do that when they first die. I reckon the eel’s telling us life is worth fighting for.” Pa winked. “Life is always worth a fight, whether it’s your own life or someone else’s. Remember, that with great power comes the responsibility to protect others.”

Giddi looked at the eel forlornly. “I didn’t protect him, did I?”

Pa’s belly laugh boomed across the river, startling a fawn, which fled through the trees, its white tail flashing. “No, this eel is providing our family with sustenance so we can protect others.” He ruffled Giddi’s hair. “Now fetch me that stick you whittled so we can cook this delectable fellow and surprise Ma when we get home with supper.”

“Come on, boy, stop dreaming.” Starrus’ voice cut through Giddi’s thoughts.

Giddi passed a burnt rat to Starrus, the smell of the carnage making his belly churn. The only consolation was that Starrus looked just as queasy as he drove one of his hooks through the rat’s upper lip and flung his line overboard.

A flurry of silver shapes shot toward Starrus’ rat, making the teal ocean ripple.

Starrus’ line went taut. “A fish, straight away,” Starrus crowed, his face triumphant as he wound the line on his stick, heaving on the twine to pull the fish in.

Giddi cast his line out.

Starrus grunted and yanked, his face turning red and the veins in his forehead standing out.

“Not too fast,” the captain cautioned, “or you’ll break the line.” He strode off, leaving them to it.

“Shrotty fish!” Starrus gave a mighty yank. His line broke and he flew onto his backside. A large fish sped off, its silver scales glistening as it made away with Starrus’ bait and hook. Starrus got to his feet rubbing his backside.

Giddi smothered a snort and Starrus spun, his glower hot enough to strip skin. “What are you laughing at? Go fetch me another hook.”

Giddi reeled in his own line, pocketed it, careful not to snag the hooks on his clothing, and strode over to the first mate who was inspecting a sail while openly guffawing at Starrus.

The mate passed him some hooks. “Trap for young players, these fish,” he called out, before lowering his voice. “When you get a bite, let the line run out so the fish thinks its got freedom, then slowly pull it in.”

Giddi refrained from saying that he already knew that, in case Starrus overheard. The crankier Starrus got, the worse it would be for him later. Besides, Starrus had knowledge he needed. Desperately. “Thanks for the hooks.”

Giddi wandered back to Starrus, threaded some new hooks onto Starrus’ line and passed him back the fishing stick.

Starrus grunted and threw the line overboard. Further along the deck, a few sailors cast lines overboard too.

Before Giddi had a chance to cast his own line into the sea, Starrus’ line went taut again. His trainer grinned. “See, boy, I have the magic touch.”

Scowls rippled across the faces of the sailors hanging over the railing with their own lines.

Starrus let the fish take the line, playing it out. When the line slackened, he slowly turned the stick to wind it back in.

A moment later, his line broke again. “Shrotty, scum-sucking bottom dweller,” Starrus cursed.

The sailors laughed.

Flinging a hand out at the ocean, Starrus raked his fingers toward the ship. A swell built on the sea, racing toward them. A freak wave rose over the side of the railing, splashing Giddi’s breeches and depositing the miscreant fish—the twine still hanging from its mouth—onto the deck with a solid plop at Starrus’ feet.

“See,” Starrus sneered at the gaping sailors, dripping, but triumphant.

The enormous fish flopped, the pink of its gills flashing as they opened and shut in a vain attempt to draw air. Starrus struck the fish on the head with the heel of his boot, killing it, and then grasped it by the tail and waved it above his head. “Here, Captain, that’ll feed some of your crew tonight.”

He wasn’t wrong. The fish was a fat one, as long as his arm, still twitching. Its scales gleamed on Starrus’ wrist. “The rest of you no-good loafers haven’t caught anything,” Starrus gloated, his eyes raking over Giddi and the other sailors.

“Much appreciated, Starrus,” the captain said dryly. “The rest of you may as well put down your lines and we’ll let the mages do the fishing.”

A way off from the ship, a dark shape undulated under the ocean, driving a school of fish toward their boat. The rushing school of white bodies gleamed with promise beneath the pristine aquamarine sea.

Giddi didn’t want to stand here stuck at the rail all day, or have to swab the deck with the other men fuming. Maybe he should try Starrus’ trick. He channeled sathir down his arm and whipped out his hand, then raked his fingers, pulling his arm toward him. An enormous wave, as wide the boat’s length, swept up the side of the ship and splashed over the rail, drenching the sailors. Men scrambled out of the way as fish thudded to the deck along the length of the rail. Giddi gaped—there were at least twenty or thirty fish flopping on the planking.

He strode along the rail, throwing the smaller ones back, feeling Starrus’ glare burning twin holes through his shoulder blades. Despite being wet, the sailors cheered enthusiastically and whacked the fish on the heads with their fishing sticks. Men clapped him on the back as they collected the fish in large wooden tubs.

“Cook’ll smoke these. “

“They’ll make mighty fine eating.”

“Good work, lad.”

The captain’s bellow rang out, “Well done, lad, you saved the day. We now have enough food until we reach Naobia.”

While the crew were busy with their backs turned and the captain was overseeing them working, Starrus stalked along the deck, fuming and gazing out to sea. He spun. A blast of wind issued from Starrus’ hands, thrusting Giddi backward across the slippery, fish-laden deck. His back slammed into the rail. Giddi gasped as pain rippled down his spine. Starrus tugged his hands. Giddi slid toward him. Then Starrus flicked his arms, spinning Giddi around. Wind blasted Giddi’s back. He hurtled into the rail, smacking his ribs, his breath knocked out of him.

And then Giddi saw what’d been rippling beneath the surface and causing the fish to flee. An enormous multi-tentacled creature blacker than ink was swimming alongside the ship.

Starrus let out a crazed shriek, waving his arms. Sathir whooshed from the sea past Giddi toward Starrus.

A huge wave higher than the tallest strongwood rose from the sea, carrying the beast with it. Water gushed over Giddi, dousing him in brine. Salt stung his eyes and filled his mouth. He spluttered and coughed, taking in more water, then waved his arms, trying to drive the water back.

“Sea monster,” a man’s strangled cry reached Giddi over the water thundering onto the deck.

There was a flash of black groping tentacles over the rail and a shudder as the beast hit the outside of the hull. The monster’s thick tentacles flipped over the edge and wrapped themselves around Giddi’s arm and chest. The beast hauled him against the rail, smacking his ribs again. The ship tilted. Giddi’s heart pounded like a battle drum as the creature’s vice-like grip tightened, the pressure driving the air from his lungs.

Spots danced before his eyes. Gods, he couldn’t breathe.

The creature squeezed him tighter against the ship’s rail. With a stab of pain, one of Giddi’s ribs popped. He shrieked.

Sailors’ cries rang out. A sword slashed past Giddi’s head and bounced off a tentacle. The sea monster pressed him tighter against the planks, leveraging itself higher up the ship’s hull until its misshapen head towered over Giddi. An arrow zipped into the beast’s fleshy forehead with a wet thunk. The sea beast ignored the arrow, and opened its gaping maw, a foul briny stench washing over Giddi.

Giddi’s knees grew weak and he slumped. The monster lifted him from the deck, his feet swinging in midair as it drew him toward its cavernous mouth. An enormous hooked beak glinted within the folds of its maw, growing ever closer.

Giddi turned away from the foul stench. Sailors were yelling, running, slashing at tentacles that writhed across the deck seeking more victims. Starrus was smirking, making no move to help—of course not, he’d dragged the monster from the sea.

Hot breath wafted over Giddi’s cheek. Gods, he had no chance. He strained to bring his hand up. No use—the beast’s grip was too tight. He tried to summon his magic, but fear froze the heat in his belly, turning it into a ball of ice.

This was it—he was going to die.


***** ” I absolutely loved it. I swear these stories keep getting better!”

—Ash Rachel

Keep reading! Grab your copy of this exciting dragon adventure from Amazon (free on Kindle Unlimited).

Riders of Fire Dragon Masters – Dragon Mage Cover Reveal – New Books in Series

Dragon Mage

Dragon Mage – New Cover Reveal

Sometimes my stories grow…

… and grow.

Master Giddi’s exciting adventures have developed into a deep, rich story that spans more than one book! Yes, Dragon Mage, Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 2,  has grown in to Dragon Mage and Master Mage.

However, Master Mage is book 4!

We have a mysterious book 3 lurking in the wings, waiting to be revealed. I’ll announce the new title  and reveal the beautiful cover art for book 3 soon.

My cover artist, Christian Bentulan, has done a wonderful job of depicting Giddi riding Aquaria, queen of the sea dragons.

Thank you to all my kind readers who have already pre-ordered Dragon Mage. The original cover will now be used for Master Mage, the story of how Giddi fell in love with Mazyka, a tempestuous ambitious mage, and broke the world.

Read on to find out more!

 an epic fantasy YA adventure set in Dragons' Realm.

Dragon Mage Riders of Fire Dragon Masters book 2



A young mage with raw, untamed power struggles for control while searching for his missing father. His vindictive trainer taunts him with the secret of his father’s disappearance. And secretly plots to kill him.

Giddi, a powerful young mage, can mind-meld with dragons at will, making him the only dragon mage in Dragons’ Realm. If he wasn’t so brash and impulsive, he might amount to something. It would help if his missing father, a Master Mage, could train him.

Instead, he’s stuck with Starrus, his arrogant and jealous trainer—the sole person who knows his father’s whereabouts.

If Giddi ever wants to see his father again, he must ensure his father’s secrets do not die with his trainer. But Starrus ruthlessly tests Giddi, repeatedly putting them in danger. Giddi’s rash actions cause an honored dragon rider’s death and a feud that will last generations, so he and Starrus are sent on a quest.

As if fighting fearless pirates, freeing a sea dragon and battling a kraken aren’t enough, Starrus abandons Giddi in the hot desert sands of the Wastelands, leaving him as carrion for the Robandi assassins…

How can Giddi convince Starrus to tell him the truth? Or will he die trying?

If you love epic coming-of-age fantasy, heart-pounding adventure and dragons, Dragon Mage is for you.

Dragon Mage, the second book in the exciting Riders of Fire Dragon Masters series, is the part of a new young adult epic fantasy series, a prequel to the award-winning, best-selling series, Riders of Fire.

Fans of Dragon School, Brindle Dragon, Dragon Riders of Pern and Eragon enjoy Riders of Fire.

Feel a dragon roaring beneath you and magic crackling under your skin. Unleash your power with Dragon Mage!

Riders of Fire Complete Box Set #483 on Amazon

Riders of Fire Complete Box Set hits


#483!!! Who worked this magic while my back was turned?

This has never happened to one of my books before!!! My Riders of Fire Complete Box Set is smashing through the ceiling! Can you hear me yelling and squealing all the way from New Zealand?

If not, take out your earbuds!!!Riders of Fire Complete Box Set




I’m happy to be rubbing shoulders with the Darkblade overlord Andy Peloquin in classic fantasy books, and with Tolkien, Cordelia Castel , JK Rowling, Elise Kova, The Witcher and all the other cool fantasy authors and characters out there!

If you haven’t seen the video, here it is! Turn up your sound!! It’s worth every tone!

Do something crazy to celebrate. And if you haven’t grabbed this beauty of a box set yet, go for it. All downloads and reads in Kindle Unlimited would be treasured! (I get paid for every page you read!!) Thank you for being awesome. Thank you for supporting me and my little family. It’s a tough world out there, but thanks to you, we have food on our table.

I am so thrilled. A huge shout out to very author who has shared my book in their newsletters, on their social media pages, in their Facebook groups or via book promotions. I thank everyone in the indie fantasy community for working together to celebrate each other’s cool books.

Rankings are fickle. ‘Tis but for a fleeting moment, so lets’ enjoy it!

Here are stacks of cool pictures to celebrate:

Bestseller Rankings:

  • #1 Teen Young Adult Mythical Creatures ebooks
  • #1 Teen Young Adult Myth & Legend ebooks
  • #1 Teen Interactive Fiction ebooks
  • #1 Classic Fantasy ebooks (with Andy’s Darkblade as #2)
  • #2 Fantasy Anthologies and Short Stories
  • #3 Metaphysical Fantasy ebooks
  • #5 Sword and Fantasy ebooks
  • #7 Coming of Age Fantasy ebooks
  • #1 Teen Young Adult Coming of Age Fantasy ebooks
  • #13 Epic Fantasy
  • #17 Teen Young Adult Fantasy ebooks
  • #59 Fantasy ebooks

What are readers saying about Riders of Fire?

★★★★★ “The best Dragon Rider series I have ever read!”

★★★★★ “The details are so vivid, I feel I’m in the stories. I can’t get enough.”

★★★★★ “I felt like I was there, soaring the skies on dragonback with the other riders as my best friends!”

★★★★★ “I couldn’t put it down, unless it fell out of my hands when I got too tired to see straight anymore.”

★★★★★ “I was enthralled the whole way through.”

★★★★★ “A complete tour de force! Dragons, magic, adventures, what more could one want – except more!”

★★★★★ “The best books I have read in many years.”

★★★★★ “You’ll find yourself immersed in the dragonverse of Eileen Mueller and her wonderful characters. What a wonderful place to be.”

Now, for the heartwarming screen shots. Hear me grin!

#1 Teen Young Adult Mythical Creatures ebooks:

#1 Teen Young Adult Myth & Legend ebooks:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#1 Teen Interactive Fiction ebooks:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#1 Classic Fantasy ebooks (with Andy’s Darkblade as #2):Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#2 Fantasy Anthologies and Short Stories:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#3 Metaphysical Fantasy ebooks:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#5 Sword and Fantasy ebooks:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#7 Teen Young Adult Coming of Age Fantasy ebooks:

#7 Coming of Age Fantasy ebooks:

#13 Epic Fantasy:Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#17 Teen Young Adult Fantasy ebooks: Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

#59 Fantasy ebooks: Riders of Fire Complete Box Set

Ezaara, Riders of Fire book 1 – excerpt

Stepping into the sunlight, Ezaara stooped to pick arnica flowers. The ancient piaua, half as thick as a cottage, rose before her at the edge of the clearing, its bark pitted and gnarly. Blue berries peeked from its dark foliage. As a tree speaker, her mother often talked to the piaua whenever she collected its sacred healing juice. Placing her palm against the bark, Ezaara strained to feel a whisper. Nothing—again. She sighed. Not a tree speaker, then. What would her vocation be? Ma was happy as a healer and herbalist, and Ezaara didn’t mind helping her, but she wanted something more. Excitement. Adventure. Maybe love.

The owl-wort vines grew among the knobby piaua roots. She parted the undergrowth and plucked a handful of leaves. Rising from a crouch, she opened her pouch.

A strange tingle ran through Ezaara, then a shadow fell over her. Something swished, a sudden breeze stirring her hair. She jerked her head up.

A dragon was circling the treetops. Ezaara recoiled in fear. With a snap of fangs or a swipe of talons, it could kill her. The owl-wort fell from her shaking hands. She tensed to flee.

But hesitated.

Sunlight played across the dragon’s iridescent scales, making them shimmer. Its graceful wings swished ever closer, rippling with color. This beast was beautiful—beautiful, but deadly. She had to escape. But the tingling grew stronger. The amazing creature circled down toward her. Foliage rustled in the downdraught from the dragon’s wingbeats.

A voice hummed in her mind. “Ezaara,” it crooned.

This creature could talk to her?

“We’re mind-melding, sensing each other’s thoughts and emotions.”

She held her breath, drawn to the dragon. Rich colors cascaded through her mind. Sunshine poured into her soul. Ezaara wanted to soar. She glimpsed a vision—her riding the dragon, flying above the forest, over the Grande Alps and into the blue.

“This is your destiny, to ride with me.”

Warning cries reached her—villagers. If only they knew this dragon, they wouldn’t be afraid.

The dragon’s hum built to a roar inside her. It dived.

Familiar faces shot into her mind. Her family! She couldn’t leave them.

Ezaara’s love for her family was swept aside as energy rushed through her. She was enveloped in a prism of rainbow-colored light, like reflections in a dewdrop. Music from the purest flute filled her heart. For the first time in her life, she felt whole. The energy coiled inside her and she sprang, lifted by the wind, hair streaming out behind her. In a flash of color, the dragon’s scales were beneath her. Ezaara landed on a saddle in a hollow between its wings. She wrapped her arms around the dragon’s spinal ridge, hugging it tight.

It felt so right.

The dragon regarded her with yellow eyes. Ezaara could’ve sworn it was smiling. “I am Zaarusha. You were born to be my rider,” it thrummed. The beast turned. Its belly rumbled and flames shot from its maw.

They flew off, leaving her home and loved ones behind.

Thank you!

If you read this far, thanks for celebrating with me.

Enjoy my adrenaline-fueled dragon rider adventures. Take to the skies and soar with Riders of Fire!

Anakisha’s Dragon Launch Party

Anakisha’s Dragon launch party!

Anakisha's Dragon

Anakisha’s Dragon is live in 6 days! Join us on 25 March 2021 from Noon ET-9pm ET for fun, games and giveaways in my Facebook group.

Anakisha's Dragon Launch Party on Facebook

I promised my readers a sneak preview of Anakisha’s Dragon. Read on and enjoy it!

Anakisha’s Dragon

A feisty street fighter avenging her dead brother. A dashing dragon rider in the right place at the wrong time. And an unlikely pirate captain with nothing left to lose.

Being a dragon rider is not in Anakisha’s plans. And Anakisha’s stubborn. She’s not giving up her dreams anytime soon.

Even the dashing Yanir—the King’s Rider, who patrols the skies on the onyx King Syan—can’t convince her to train at Dragons’ Hold. But then again, Yanir’s as irritating as he is good looking. Then Anaksiha’s gifts unfold, a dragon comes calling, and a crisis calls her into action.

Will’s an opportunist, combing the Naobian market to feed his starving sister. Luck goes his way, until a fateful game in a dodgy tavern changes his life forever.

He and his best friend wake on a ship, desperate, surrounded by bloodthirsty pirates, and armed only with Will’s gift of the gab. But even Will can’t talk his way out of this one…

This epic clash will plunge Dragons’ Realm into generations of bloody battles.

If you love epic coming-of-age fantasy, heart-pounding adventure and dragons, Anakisha’s Dragon is for you.

Dancing Dragon

The warmth of the Dancing Dragon was stifling, and the hum of voices was already loud enough to drown out a dragonet’s roar, even though it was only late afternoon. Anakisha turned the tap on a keg, and pale ale frothed into the wooden tankard. She placed it on the bar, foam slopping down the side. An out-of-towner—a dashing straw-blond fellow with ebony eyes and a fine-spun cloak in midnight blue—smiled at her as he placed his coppers on the polished wooden bar.

The handsome man winked. “Keep the change.”

She smiled. “Thank you.” She tucked the coppers into her apron, and pushed a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear.

“When do you finish work?” The man raised an eyebrow.

Ew, yuck, he was way too old for her—nearly thirty summers. He could barely believe a girl of seventeen summers would be keen on him. Anakisha let the trace of a smile soften her words. “My work here is never finished. There’s always something to do.”

He gave a mocking grin. “Oh well, it was worth a shot. You don’t blame me for trying with such a pretty girl, do you?” He picked up his beer, sauntered off to a crowded table and sat down. His friends jeered and hooted, shooting more than one glance at her.

So, it was like that, was it? No doubt, the cad had been dared by his friends to try his luck with her. Anakisha turned her back and poured a beer for the next patron. He wasn’t the first man to have failed, nor would he be the last. She smiled to herself. She only had eyes for one man. She avoided turning to gaze at the best window table where Justan was seated with his father, the village arbitrator, and his father’s advisers.

As she spun, she couldn’t resist a peek. The late afternoon sun glinted in the golden strands of Justan’s blond hair as he nodded attentively at something important those men were saying. Now, there was a compassionate young man going places. Not like the lout sitting with his boozy friends. Not that Anakisha had anything against drinking. She and Pa supported their family honestly by plying ale, food and rooms in the Dancing Dragon.

Her father nudged her and nodded at a stranger in an identical good-quality blue traveling cloak. “Could you serve this gentleman too, please, Anakisha?” He wiped his brow and grinned as he poured ale into one tankard after another. “We’ll make good coin today. We’re still three days out, and this tournament is already great for business. Can you imagine how busy we’ll be tomorrow and the day after? Not to mention during the after-tournament revelry.” Pa bustled off, hands full of tankards, to serve a group of men at the other end of the bar.

The tournament. Anakisha rolled her eyes. Why did he have to remind her? It wasn’t as if she could forget. This was the first year she wouldn’t be competing.

A breeze blew through the tavern as the door opened and another group of travelers elbowed their way through the throng, past the dark polished wooden tables brimming with patrons, toward the bar.

“Three ales and two plates of steak and eggs with bread, thanks, Anakisha.” Farmer Orion placed his coppers on the bar, his frayed shirt cuffs trailing through a trace of froth. “I wouldn’t say no to mushrooms and onions if you have some too.”

Anakisha plonked his ales down, pocketed his coin, and wiped up the foam. “Thanks. I’ll bring your meals out when they’re ready.” She headed to the kitchen.

“Anakisha, when you’ve placed that order, could you take a few chairs and tables outside into the square?” Pa asked. “The new arrivals need somewhere to sit. And grab four beers for the corner table on the way back, will you?”

Anakisha bustled behind the bar through the door into the kitchen.

Stella’s face was pink and her forehead covered in a glowing sheen of perspiration. She pushed back wisps that had escaped her long blonde braid. “Can you give me a hand, Anakisha? I’m run off my feet.” Her younger sister flipped some ham steaks and cracked more eggs onto an already full skillet.

“I know the feeling. This is the busiest it’s been since…” She bit her lip. Stella was already stressed. None of them needed reminders of Ma and Jacob’s deaths right now. Anakisha grabbed some steak from the meat safe and plopped two pieces onto the edge of the skillet. She sliced a few onions and threw them and a handful of mushrooms on, too. “I’d better get out to the bar. Oh, Farmer Orion wants bread with his steaks.”

“But we don’t have any bread.” Face panic-stricken, Stella flipped the eggs and ham onto four plates and maneuvered the steak into the middle of the skillet.

Anakisha shook her head. Stella was barely beyond her littling years, only nine summers old. Managing a kitchen in the busiest season was no small task for an adult, let alone a young girl. “The bakery’s not closed yet. Nip down the alley and grab a few loaves, and I’ll deal with all of this.” Anakisha popped some coppers into her little sister’s hand and hustled her toward the back door. “Be quick.”

“Thanks, Anakisha.” Stella hurried out the door, but turned on the stoop. “It’s a shame you can’t enter the tournament this year. Jacob would’ve been proud of how hard you’ve practiced.”

He would’ve. And proud if she won the coin up for grabs. Coin that could help her family. Anakisha picked up the plates of ham and eggs and gave Stella a bright smile. “It’s all right.” She swallowed the lump in her throat as her sister dashed across the Dancing Dragon’s stable yard and down the alley.

For years, her father had let her tag along to the tournaments with her older brother Jacob, who’d taught her all he’d learned from the village’s master archer. This was the first tournament since Jacob had been murdered and Ma had died of pilzkrank. She’d been practicing every day since her brother’s death, determined to compete and honor Jacob’s name. But last night, when folk had flooded the tavern, Pa had forbidden her to enter the tournament this year, saying their livelihood came first. But if she won the prize, she’d be helping their livelihood too.

Pa stuck his head through the door. “Four more plates of ham and eggs, two apiece for tables seven and eight.” He raised an eyebrow. “Where’s Stella?”

“Gone to get bread.”

“Good. I’ll do the beers. Could you help me with the chairs once you’ve served those plates?” He ducked back into the bar.

Anakisha followed Pa into the taproom, the din enveloping her as she wove between crowded tables, deftly avoiding the odd stray hand—not locals’ hands—only out-of-towners would attempt something that daft under her father’s watchful eye.

Smiling, she gave the patrons their meals and then scampered down the hallway to retrieve the folding tables to ferry outside. The furniture was light, but awkward to squeeze through the crowded taproom. Anakisha dodged patrons and finally made it outside with a table under her arm. The square was brimming with visitors to Fieldhaven, hawkers plying their wares long after the morning market should’ve shut. Usually, setting the tables outside was one of their early morning tasks when they opened, but today, they’d been woken by people looking for rooms and food, and barely stopped since.

No sooner had she set the tables on the cobbles and dashed back inside to grab some chairs, patrons were flooding outside with their ales to sit in front of the tavern.

“Hey, love, could we have some stew and bread out here?” a middle-aged man with a huge belly and dark bushy whiskers asked. “Four bowls for me and my companions, please.”

“We’re out of bread, but I can bring you stew for now, and perhaps some bread later,” Anakisha replied.

“No bread?” The man’s eyebrows shot up. “Never mind. The whole town’s probably out with so many people here for the tournament. Just bring us that hearty stew. That’ll keep us archers going.”

His companions guffawed, flexing their bow arms.

Everyone in town—and from out of town—was competing, except her. Anakisha bustled through the taproom and into the kitchen, making her way to the cauldron of bubbling goat stew. She ladled stew into four bowls, salivating at the aroma of mushrooms, onions, meat and carrots in thick gravy. She hadn’t eaten in hours. Maybe she could snag a slice of bread when Stella returned. Balancing two bowls on each arm, and Farmer Orion’s orders in one hand, Anakisha pushed the door open with her hip and walked through the taproom, catching snatches of conversation.

“Dragons are on their way. They say even King Syan has been sighted coming south.”

“Syan? He’s not been about much lately. They say he’s been too busy training his young rider.”

“He has been. So, are dragon riders competing too?”

“They always shoot a few arrows.”

“The tournament’s early, so mind what you drink. You don’t want to sleep through it.”

“Who should we place our bets on today? What’s the local talent like?”

She gave Farmer Orion his steaks. “Stella will be back with bread soon.”

He nodded his thanks and kept on talking.

Anakisha escaped the dense babble and broke out into the square. “Gentlemen, I trust this will be to your liking.” The men broke off their conversation while she placed their bowls before them. Their tankards were empty. “Would you like more beer?” she asked.

The man with the beard chuckled, his belly wobbling beneath his shirt. “No worries, love. We’ll come to the bar when we need more ale. It’s so busy, it looks like you can hardly take a breath.”

She smiled gratefully and raced back inside.

Pa smiled at a red-faced laundress sitting at the bar, set her beer on the counter, and collected her coin with a practiced ease. “Anakisha, the arbitrator’s table would like ham and eggs, when you have a moment.”

“Stella should be back by now. I’ll let her know.”

“Ah, look, a new influx of guests,” Pa replied as yet more people pushed their way into the crowded tavern.

Anakisha popped her head through the door into the kitchen. “Stella, we need… Stella?” Stella was hunched over the table, shoulders shaking, her face in her hands. Anakisha rushed over and laid an arm across her littling sister’s shoulders. “Stella, what’s wrong?”

Her sister lifted her face, her cheeks tear-streaked. A dark bruise was blossoming on her left cheek.

“What happened?” Anakisha cradled her little sister’s head against her chest as sobs wracked Stella’s body.

“It was one of the Howlers,” Stella sniffed. “Purley’s gang stole my coppers, so we don’t have any bread.”

“Which Howler? Who?” Anakisha held Stella out to examine her face. Her cheek was swollen, and the bruise mottled her skin.

“It was Spike,” Stella sobbed. “I caught him with his hand in my pocket trying to steal my coppers.”

“What did you do?”

“I punched him, but only in the arm. He stole my coppers anyway.”

“So brave.” Anakisha pulled out a ’kerchief and wiped Stella’s eyes and cheeks, carefully dabbing around the bruise. It still made Stella wince. “Good on you,” she said. “I’m proud of you for standing up for yourself. I bet he has a right bruise tomorrow.”

Her littling sister smiled through her tears, heartening Anakisha. “Don’t worry,” Anakisha whispered. “We’ll get your coppers back.”

Stella’s tears stopped. Wide-eyed, she asked, “We will? How, Anakisha?”

“I know someone who knows someone who fights the Howlers.” Hopefully, that would be enough to satisfy her sister without raising suspicion.

“Stella,” Pa called from the taproom, “please bring the ham and eggs for the arbitrator’s group by the window. Anakisha, could you grab two more of those small tables and bring them outside for a new group? And when you’re done, they’d all like ales.”

Anakisha rolled her eyes. “Wouldn’t we all?” she muttered to Stella, managing to make her sister laugh. “Here, I’ll put the eggs and ham on. Watch them while I do the tables and ale and then I’ll take them out for you. The last thing you need is a ribbing from unruly patrons—and there are more than a few unruly ones out there at the moment.” Anakisha cracked the eggs onto the heavy iron skillet.

“Thank you,” Stella murmured, gingerly touching her bruise.

Anakisha clenched her jaw. Spike would pay for marring her sister’s face. She’d see to it personally.


Anakisha sauntered back out to the taproom balancing two plates of ham and eggs on each arm, with an extra ale for the arbitrator in one hand, in his special tankard. She deftly maneuvered between the crowded tables, avoiding being jostled by laughing patrons. Everyone was in a festive mood—except Stella, who was back on her feet, but still puffy-eyed, in the kitchen.

Trust the Howlers to ruin things.

“Evening, gentlemen. The ale’s on the house, sir,” Anakisha said, placing it in front of Justan’s pa. She deposited the plates in front of the arbitrator, his two advisers and Justan.

Justan’s father barely gave her a glance, although his scowl lessened slightly as he reached for the beer and continued his conversation with his advisers.

Anakisha briefly laid her hand on the table with five fingers splayed, then touched her shoulder with her left hand.

Justan’s eyes grazed her fingers on the table, then flitted to her hand at her shoulder. He tilted his head, watching his father as if transfixed, smiling slightly as his father gestured ostentatiously and delivered the punch line to his anecdote. Too busy laughing, the other men missed Justan’s nod, the two fingers he laid on the table, then his ten splayed fingers as he placed his hands on either side of his plate of steaming eggs and tangy ham.

Good. Tonight at twelve. But where?

“Do you require anything else, gentlemen?” Anakisha asked, deliberately giving Justan more time.

“I’m fine, thanks.” Justan scratched his chin, letting his forefinger brush his lower lip.

At the abandoned wine cellar, then.

“We’ll call you if we need anything, girl.” Justan’s father waved Anakisha away like a bothersome moth flitting too close to a lantern.

Anakisha made her way back through the maze of tables to the bar. With a flash of his midnight-blue cloak, the straw-blond man reached out to pat her waist as she edged past. She nimbly sidestepped his grasping fingers.

His companions guffawed.

“You’re going to have to try harder than that if you want her,” a man wearing a similar cloak chortled, banging his meaty fists on the table.

As far as she was concerned, midnight couldn’t come soon enough.


Pa stalked out from behind the bar, shouldering his way through the taproom. He towered over the straw-blond man, fists flexing. “I’d thank you to keep your hands off the tavern master’s daughter.” His voice was laced with iron.

The man turned his dark glare on Pa. “And I suppose you’re the tavern master, are you?” His tone bordered on arrogant.

“Yes, I am.” The iron in Pa’s voice brooked no nonsense. “Perhaps you’d like a meal to help you handle your ale?”

The man grinned. “Well, if I can’t have the girl, a fine slab of ham wouldn’t go astray.” His eyes raked over Anakisha’s hips and thighs, making her want to scrub herself with a boar-bristle brush.

Actually, make that his face she wanted to scrub with boar bristles. Instead, she stalked off and sequestered herself behind the bar. She could still hear Pa from here, but she felt a lot better with the solid walnut bar between her and that pretty snake.

“If you or your friends want any more beer tonight, keep away from my daughter.”

The man nodded. “Yes, sir. I wouldn’t want to disappoint my friends.”

His friends laughed as if he’d meant something else completely. Something ribald. Something sinister. A shiver rippled down Anakisha’s spine.

When the last of the customers at the bar turned to take their beer off to the crowded tables, Anakisha slipped into the kitchen.

Stella had pulled her hair out of her braid and was seated at the table, taking a rare break. Two steaming mugs of soppleberry tea sat on the kitchen table, their bittersweet aroma wafting to meet Anakisha. Her sister sipped from a mug and gestured at a seat. “Sit down, Anakisha. You must be tired too.”

Anakisha sank into a hard wooden chair and cradled her hands around the warm mug, inhaling deeply. “Ah, this is just what I need. Thank you.” As she took a sip, Pa wandered into the kitchen.

Stella leaned forward, pouring a third mug of tea for Pa, her hair cascading over her cheek. Then she went to the counter, her back to them, and busied herself with plonking dirty dishes into the wooden tub of steaming water on the benchtop. She didn’t fool Anakisha—Stella was hiding her bruise so Pa wouldn’t see.

Pa wearily sank into Stella’s seat and rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t want you and Stella to grow up in this tavern cooking and learning your letters by day and serving drinks and food all night.” He took a long sip of tea. “I know there’s a better life for you both out there,” he spat. “A life away from thuggish louts and pretty boys who think they’re allowed their own way with women.”

Anakisha patted Pa’s hand. “It won’t be forever, Pa. Things will change soon.”

“I know you’re trying hard, blossom. Hopefully, you’re right and our fortune will soon change. With more busy days like today…” he trailed off, scowling. “Not that I want more incidents like that one. But with a few more busy days we’ll earn enough coin to hire some help.”

Anakisha had never dared to tell Pa about her plan: one day, when she married Justan, the arbitrator was bound to promote Pa to be one of his advisers. Then Pa could also wear fine ermine stoles. He’d be able to come home and see them in the evenings, instead of being stuck behind the bar serving guzzling patrons.

She smiled brightly and patted his hand again. “We’ll sort something out.”

Pa frowned, his blue eyes piercing. “You’re not up to some harebrained scheme, are you?”

Anakisha let her eyebrows shoot up. “Harebrained?” Her scheme was anything but that. “No, not me.” She wouldn’t tell Pa and Stella a thing until they no longer had to work in the Dancing Dragon. Perhaps, one day, she and Stella could live somewhere with a pretty flower garden—instead of a stable yard out back—and spend their summer afternoons sipping cold soppleberry tea under cherry trees, like Justan’s ma and sister did.

But not tonight—tonight she had work to do.

Two Moons Ago


Star had buried herself under her covers again. Will peeled back her light summer quilt to peer at his littling sister. Her hair was tousled and her face creased with sleep. He stooped to kiss her brow.

As his lips brushed her forehead, she woke. “Are you going out again?” she murmured, and sat up, her ebony eyes bright in the predawn shadows.

“I am.” He smiled and tickled her under her chin.

She stifled a giggle and shot a glance at the next room. Their mother’s soft snores trickled from her bedroom.

Will sat on the bed. His eyes darted to Ma’s room. “I stayed by her all night. She slept well last night, the whole night through. You should be fine with her today. If there are any worries, go straight to Bessie’s.”

A frown puckered Star’s pretty brow. “Will you be home by supper?”

“Yes, I will.” He nodded.

Star gave a shy smile. “What will you bring today?”

Will grinned, even though he didn’t feel like it. Before he’d woken Star, he’d pried up the floorboard and taken out the last of their savings—a measly two coppers, enough for two loaves of bread. Ma had been sick for nigh on a moon now, and unable to work. Will had tried all sorts of work, but between caring for Star and Ma, and being clobbered by half the merchants in the local market for having a smart mouth, he hadn’t been very successful—until he’d started trading up.

Yes, things were looking better, but he’d need these coppers as seed money. You couldn’t get rich from nothing. By the First Egg, Ma had told them that often enough.

He smiled at his baby sister. At seven summers, she was still a littling and ten years his junior. Since Pa had died at sea shortly after Star’s birth, he’d done everything he could to keep them safe. And today would be no different. His smile softened. “Now, lie down and go back to sleep.”

She wriggled under the bed sheet, her chin poking over the top. “You promise you’ll be back in time for supper? Can you bring something tasty?”

Will nodded. “I will. In the meantime, there are a few bites of bread left. I’ve milked the goat and softened half the bread in a bowl for Ma. Hopefully, you can get a few mouthfuls into her today. And there are still a few plums on the tree.”

Star’s lip trembled.

Will tickled her chin again to make her smile. “There now, be a brave girl and I’ll bring you and Ma a treat for supper.”

Her face brightened immediately. “Perhaps an orange?”

“We’ll see what my master gives me.” There was no point in telling Star or Ma he’d been fired again. They’d just worry. He sighed. He’d never expected to become the man in the household at twelve summers old. For five years, he’d borne the weight like an enormous Robandi camel slung across his shoulders.

Perhaps camels didn’t weigh that much. Long-legged, the beasts had mighty bodies for sure, but perhaps his family weighed more—especially this last moon since Ma had gotten sick. If only he’d been better at earning a crust. He’d failed them because he couldn’t keep his trap shut. Well, it was that very same mouth that was keeping them fed now.

Will bent and kissed Star’s forehead. Then he brushed his fingertips across her eyelids and they drifted shut. He blew out the candle and tiptoed out the door into the dark.


It was an hour’s walk to Treyvin’s cottage but, as usual, Will had lingered with Star, so he had to hurry if they were to get to the market early. The empty burlap sack over his shoulder swung as the ocean breeze caught it. He hurried along the road between the farms and orchards, heading towards Treyvin’s house on the outskirts of Naobia.

When he got to Treyvin’s gate, his best mate was nowhere to be seen. With a rustle of leaves, Treyvin slid down a tree onto the road and landed with a thump. His teeth flashed in the gray predawn light, and he held up a handful of walnuts. Beside Treyvin’s cottage, the forge was already glowing—his father, a blacksmith, was an early riser. A head taller than Will and one and a half times as broad, Treyvin had the right build for a blacksmith—thick, well-muscled arms and large hands with blunt finger tips.

Treyvin moved with the confidence of a draft horse, big-footed and solid, passing Will a couple of walnuts and gesturing at his own bulging pockets. “There’s more where those came from. I guess you haven’t had any breakfast.”

Will nodded, pocketing the nuts to take home to Star. Although they were too tough for Ma to chew in her weakened state, his sister loved them. She’d wanted a treat for supper. Walnuts would do the trick nicely.

Treyvin gave him a cheeky grin and placed two walnuts in the palm of his large hand. He closed his fist around them and squeezed. When he opened it, the walnuts had cracked cleanly. Treyvin picked out the nut flesh and chewed it, grinning. “Your turn.” He held out two more for Will.

Will shook his head. “I don’t have strong blacksmith’s hands like you.” He took the nuts anyway and squeezed them as hard as he could, knuckles turning red and then white. It was no use. They didn’t crack.

Treyvin laughed and pulled another two nuts out of his pocket. Within moments, a crack sounded from his palm and those walnuts were in pieces as well. “Go on,” Treyvin said. “Try again, or you’ll never get any breakfast.”

“Maybe I’m not that hungry.” Will’s stomach grumbled, betraying him.

Treyvin sniggered as they hurried along the road toward Naobia, Treyvin cracking walnuts and passing them to Will.

Will picked the pieces of flesh from the shards and munched on them. They were good, but barely enough to keep him going. “Let’s take the shortcut through the orchard,” he suggested when they were near the city.

They sneaked through the peach orchard, snaffling some fruit on the way. Will even managed to stuff a few pieces into his sack. Peaches would please Star, no end.

As usual, they waited for sunrise at the edge of the orchard on a knoll just outside town. The red rays of dawn rose above the city of Naobia. The sun’s fiery wake reflected on the broad expense of the Naobian Sea, setting the ocean ablaze with red and gold. Will inhaled deeply through his nostrils, savoring the salty tang of the ocean and enjoying the wind ruffling his hair. “I love the sea.”

“I know.” Treyvin rolled his eyes. “You say the same thing every morning. It’s in your blood, from your pa.”

Could it be that simple? The sound of crashing waves tugged on something fierce and wild inside Will, making him want to ride out on the tide all the way to the Wastelands—the Robandi Desert where those giant-hoofed camels roamed and assassins pocked the dunes like canker. He shrugged. “Maybe it is from Pa. Maybe not.” Some days he could barely remember his father.

A green guard flew out from the city, patrolling along the coast. Three more flew out to meet an incoming ship. The dragons’ wings blazed emerald in the early morning sun, their riders sitting tall in their saddles.

“Being a dragon rider, now that’d be the life,” Treyvin said. “Soaring on the wind above the city, flying out over the depths and viewing the world from on high. Not having to slave over a hot forge in the summer heat.”

“How long has your pa given you?”

Treyvin grimaced and tossed an empty walnut shell into the grass. “Two more days to prove I can make decent coin, otherwise I’m back in the forge. Are you sure we can make this work?”

“We’ll be fine, you’ll see.” Will shaded his eyes from the rising sun. The dragons were now circling the ship.

“Do you think it’s a pirate ship?” Treyvin gestured at the incoming galley. The prow cut through the satin of the ocean, peeling it back like the skin of an orange, leaving a shimmering trail of foam in the galley’s wake.

Will shook his head, pointing at the sails. “Hard to tell, but I don’t think so. See how she’s riding low in the ocean? It’s probably full of goods from the Wastelands—or from Metropoli, ferried across the sand by camels.”

“Could be from farther along the coast,” said Treyvin practically.

Will grinned. “That wouldn’t be half as romantic.”

Treyvin shivered. “I’m glad I don’t live in Metropoli. They say slaves make half the wares there. Knowing our luck, we’d be among them.”

Will barked a laugh. “Us, slaves? No way. I’m glad I’m in Naobia living a free life. Even if I haven’t made my fortune yet, as least here we have a chance.” He elbowed Treyvin. “Besides, today’s our lucky day. I can feel it in my bones.”

“Me too.”

They bumped fists. “To freedom and good fortune.” Treyvin raised an eyebrow.

“To freedom and good fortune.” Will returned it with a raised one of his own. “We’d better get on with it. Our fortunes won’t be made standing here.”

They strode down the knoll onto the main road leading to the gate in the city wall. Merchants were unloading goods from the dock and bustling toward town.

Will and Treyvin strode through the city wall and along the road past a man pushing a handcart loaded with exotic fruit. Will inhaled the scent of cardamom as a horse clopped past, pulling a wagon laden with grains, herbs and spices.

“Make way, make way.” A man flipped the reins on his horse, his yellow and red caravan drumming up a flurry of dust. Pots and pans fastened to ropes outside the rear door clattered as Will and Treyvin stood, their backs to the stone wall of a building to let the tinker pass.

“Let’s duck down here.” Will gestured to a side alley, and he and Treyvin went down it to avoid the press of traffic. Will wiped the dust from his mouth with the back of his hand.

They broke into a piazza holding Will’s favorite fountain in all of Naobia. A tangle of sea dragons carved from opaline crystal cascaded water out of their maws, their tiny glassy scales glittering with rainbows in the early morning sun. Will scooped the sparkling water up with both hands and took deep gulps, rinsing the walnut bits from his teeth. He drew a damp hand through his dark hair and slicked it back. “When you’re trading up, you have to look the part. Best to present yourself tidily so people trust you.” He inspected his reflection in the water, satisfied.

Treyvin looked dubious, but bent to swish a wet hand through his hair. “Any good?”

“Uh, it’s sort of sticking up. Perhaps you could…” Will mimed slicking rather than scrubbing, but no matter what he did, Treyvin’s hair stuck up at odd angles like an untidy shag’s nest.

“That’ll have to do,” said Will. “If we don’t get to the market soon, it’ll be shut.”

“It’s only set-up time,” Treyvin protested.

“Ah, it was just an idiom.”

“I’m not an idiot.” Treyvin frowned quizzically.

“That’s not what I meant. Forget it. Look, if you’re going to learn how to trade up, you need to copy me. Are you with me?” Will held out his fist.

Treyvin bumped it. “To freedom and good fortune,” they said in unison and hurried down the lane to the market square.

Night Wings


A few stray customers were still outside, sipping their final ales at the tables in the square, when Anakisha and Pa closed up and dragged their weary bodies up to bed. “Good night, Anakisha,” Pa said, pausing on the threshold to his room. “Thanks for your help tonight.”

“Night, Pa.” Anakisha slipped through the door next to his and closed it.

Stella was long since in bed, breathing softly and evenly, a dark hump under her covers, barely visible in the strand of moonlight that slid between the crack in the curtains.

Anakisha drew the drapes back and opened the window, the lacy net curtains fluttering in a gentle breeze as she pulled the sash window up. She took a stick out from under her bed and propped the window open. The slurred voices of the last drunken patrons floated up from below, their raucous chuckles drowning out Stella’s even breaths. Moonlight fell across Stella’s bed. Anakisha stole over and gazed at the mottled bruise on her sister’s pretty cheek.

Anger stirred in her belly. The street rats had probably killed her brother. Now, they’d bullied one littling too many. Tonight, she’d teach them. She eased her door open and peeked down the corridor. Candlelight glimmered under Pa’s door. There was no way she could sneak out the back while he was still up. The window, then.

She closed the door and stole over to the hearth. Anakisha grabbed a handful of ash and smeared it on her cheeks, then threw her warmest cloak over her shoulders and padded to the window. They’d closed late. It must be after midnight. How long would Justan wait for her? Hopefully long enough. She took off her boots, tied the laces together and hung them around her neck.

With moons of practice, it was no problem for Anakisha to hoist herself into a crouch on the window sill, twist, and maneuver herself onto the ledge outside, grasping the stones on either side of the window to steady herself. A burst of raucous laughter echoed off the cobbles. Anakisha glanced down. The moon glimmered off pale hair. A familiar voice drifted up to her.

By the First Egg, it was that straw-blond man and his cronies, swathed in their midnight-blue cloaks. Luckily, they were too busy enjoying the dregs of their ale to notice her. She edged along the ledge, her fingers grasping familiar handholds. Only a few steps to go until the corner.

The unmistakable swish of dragon wings beat overhead. A rush of wind gusted her hair across her face and made her cloak eddy around her legs. Dark wings blotted out the moonlight.

The straw-blond man laughed. “Hey, what’s that? Anyone feel like besting a dragon rider tonight?”

“Not that particular rider,” crowed a crony, “but if you’re itching for a duel, I’ll best you.”

More laughter broke out.

Anakisha froze on the ledge. Gods, if they saw her and yelled out, they’d be sure to rouse Pa—and all the dragon fire in the realm wouldn’t save her.

If she could just get around the back, near the stables, she wouldn’t risk being seen. She tentatively reached an arm around the corner, then stretched out her leg, her bare feet grasping toeholds. Only two handholds until the next ledge.

Anakisha whipped around the corner as the blond man said, “Wouldn’t mind a taste of that tavern wench.”

Shuddering, she paused on the next ledge, and drew in a deep breath. The sooner she got out of here, the better. She reached out for a handhold and launched herself across the gap to the next ledge, and then the next, her boots swinging, whacking her chest. Finally, heart pounding, she reached the drainpipe at the corner of the stable yard.

She shimmied down the pipe and landed on the rain barrel. Anakisha breathed a sigh of relief and thudded to the ground, her boots thumping against her chest. Thank First Egg, she’d escaped those drunkards.

Raucous laughter rang down the alley.

Strong hands shot out of the shadows and grasped her arms. “What are you doing out past your bedtime? Looking for fun?” A flash of teeth in the darkness—and that straw hair. “Gimme a drink from those pretty red lips,” the drunk slurred, tightening his grip until the bones in her forearms ached.

Gods, he was strong. “You’ve obviously had enough to drink,” she said. “The tavern will be open tomorrow if you’d like another ale.” Around the corner, his cronies were laughing about tavern wenches.

Tavern wench indeed. What gave those men the right to treat her like this? It wasn’t her fault Ma and Jacob had died, leaving her and Pa to run the Dancing Dragon. Nevertheless, a prickle ran down her spine at their deep chuckles. Gods, if they came around the corner too…

“Come on, you know you want me.” The man leaned in, a gust of stinking beer rushing across her cheek and over her lips. He shoved her up against the wall, leering. “You made a fool of me, but your father’s not here to protect you now, girl, so I’ll show you a thing or two.” He jammed her harder against the wall. Despite her thick cloak, the stone bit into her spine.

Wedging his shoulder against hers, he fiddled with his belt buckle. As quick as an asp, Anakisha kneed him in the groin.

Gasping, he doubled over clutching his crotch. She kicked out, her foot connecting with his chest. He tumbled to the cobbles, his limbs sprawling in a drunken heap.

Anakisha ran, her boots thumping against her chest and feet scraping on the rough cobbles.

Bellowing, the brute thundered after her and yanked the end of her cloak. She surged forward and the fabric ripped. Anakisha darted down a tiny lane. These alleys were her playground, her territory. She knew them like the back of her hand—better than the back of her hand. Better than he did.

His boots pounded the cobbles, echoing off the sleepy buildings. A bolt of green flame shot through the air. Anakisha ducked as it sizzled past, narrowly missing her head, and hit the stone facade of a bakery. She dashed around a corner, catching a glimpse of green sparks dripping from his fingertips. A mage—just her luck.

She raced like a flaming dragon was on her tail, leaped over a pile of garbage and scrambled to the end of the lane. A wooden fence and a pile of refuse blocked her way. But then again, she’d known that. Anakisha surged over the garbage and clambered up the fence. The bottom corner of her cloak snagged on a nail, and for a moment, she teetered on the top of the fence, the ties of her cloak tightening at her throat and choking the air from her windpipe.

The straw-blond mage laughed, making gooseflesh ripple down her spine. A blast of heat roiled toward her. Desperate, Anakisha flung herself toward the ground. The cloak’s ties constricted her throat. Dizzy, she let her weight carry her. With a wrench, her cloak ripped free of the nail and Anakisha fell off the fence into the farrier’s yard.

Gasping, she sprang to her feet and took off across the hard-packed dirt. One of her boots had become dislodged and banged against her back as she ran, the other thumping her chest. Gods, her feet were sore.

A curse rang out behind her. There was a muffled thud as the mage hit the ground. He didn’t rise. No sparks flitted from his fingers. As she glanced back, a deep snore rumbled across the yard. The drunken sod had banged his head and was out like a snuffed lantern.

Feet aching, Anakisha kept running.


Anakisha bolted along the cobbled alley that wound between storefronts nestled together like a cluster of toadstools. Storm clouds scudded across the moon. Her feet slapped on the rough cobbles and her breath rasped. Gods, what a night—and it hadn’t even started yet.

When she came to the corner of the Narrows and Bloodlust Alley, she slowed, slipping into the shadows and moving silently along the stone facades until she reached the hatch to an old wine cellar beneath a derelict tavern. Anakisha gave two short raps on the door and waited. A sliver of moonlight broke from between the dark clouds and hit the hatch as it opened, illuminating a pale hand that motioned her inside.

Still panting, Anakisha climbed down the rickety stairs, hoping she wouldn’t get splinters in her aching feet.

Justan grunted and slid the hatch shut. A lamp flared, illuminating his and three other ash-smeared faces.

Brianna scowled. “You’re late.” The flickering lantern light made the ropey scar across her throat gleam. Caught in a knife fight, Brianna had been no match for the Howler that had wielded the blade against her. Luckily, Justan had been passing and jumped in at the last minute. Since then, Brianna had fawned over him.

Fox, Brianna’s brother and Jacob’s best friend, shifted uneasily, shadows playing across his thin face and pooling under his sharp cheekbones so his head looked like a skull with a thatch of wiry red hair. Next to him, Billy flexed his brawny arms and looked at Justan with his slanted emerald eyes—not unlike a cat’s.

“We couldn’t really leave without her, could we?” Justan said. “Since she’s the one who called the meeting, and all.” He spun to Anakisha, hands splayed. “So why did you want to meet tonight?”

Anakisha sat on the bottom step and rubbed her aching feet. Her words came out in a torrent as she tugged her boots on. “The Howlers attacked Stella and stole her coin when she was out buying bread for the tavern. She came back in tears, empty-handed, with an ugly bruise on her cheek. I want revenge. Purley has to pay.”

“Purley has to pay, all right. And not just for wee Stella.” Justan growled. “That’s four attacks on us and ours this week. They kicked Shiv in the guts behind the tannery and then wrenched my arm something awful in a scuffle in the marketplace, knowing I couldn’t fight back because my pa was around.”

“With Stella, that’s three. Who’s the fourth?” Anakisha tugged her laces tight.

“They poisoned Widow Mayfree’s cat,” Fox piped up. “I know it was them, even though they denied it, ’coz she hit Spike with her purse when he tried to lift her coin last week.”

Justan shook his head. “They’re a nasty bunch, all right. We need to rid the streets of these rats. If my father wasn’t so spineless, we could fight the Howlers on behalf of the council and be paid good coin. But he’s terrified of them striking back.”

Justan was noble, fighting for the cause even though it could cost him his inheritance—no mean feat, because the arbitrator had the largest estate in the village. Despite his father being the arbitrator, he was brave enough to take matters into his own hands.

Justan’s gaze turned to Anakisha and lingered as his voice softened. “We need to avenge the Howlers’ wrongs.”

She swallowed and blinked hard. After Ma died, Jacob had been consumed with grief and taken to fighting. He and Fox had fallen in with the Night Wings. For three moons, Jacob had fought the Howlers alongside Justan, Fox and Billy. And then one night, Justan had arrived at the back door of the Dancing Dragon with Jacob in his arms, splattered in her brother’s blood. The dagger hilt protruding from Jacob’s chest had said it all. Pale-faced, Justan had passed Jacob’s body to Pa and taken Anakisha in his arms, holding her while she sobbed. Comforting her. He’d been her refuge in the storm. On the spot, she’d pledged to fight with Justan in the Night Wings and avenge her brother’s death. The next night, she’d sneaked out to meet the Night Wings and put an end to the Howlers’ crimes.

“Why are you late?” Justan asked.

“Couldn’t help it,” Anakisha said. “A lout followed me from the tavern and tried to have his way with me.” Her heartbeat sped, just thinking about it again.

“By the dragon gods!” Justan’s eyes narrowed. “You all right?”

Anakisha’s heart stuttered. Shards, it was nice to know he cared. “Yes, I’m fine, but that strange mage is not. He’s out cold in the farrier’s yard.”

One of Fox’s red eyebrows quirked up. “You bested a mage? Good on you, Anakisha. Jacob’s fighting lessons paid off.”

Billy grinned and Brianna laughed.

“Let’s get down to business.” Justan palmed a key from his pocket and strode behind a row of fusty old barrels.

They all followed, Fox carrying the lantern. Justan bent and opened the weapon chest. The flickering lamplight glinted on the collection of blades. Justan selected his favorite sword and tucked an assortment of daggers into his belt and boots. As Justan’s new right hand, Anakisha got next choice. She lifted her scabbard from the chest and drew out her sword, the fine blade gleaming as she inspected it. Anakisha sheathed it and fastened it at her hip as Fox took his sword, Brianna her knives, and Billy his cudgel—not that he needed it; his fists were powerful enough.

Justan snapped the chest shut and locked it.

“Over the rooftops?” Fox whispered, a sly smile sliding across his thin face.

A nod from Justan and they padded to the stair. Billy hung back and blew out the lantern, plunging them into darkness. He pushed past them in the inky-black and opened the door without fumbling. It was uncanny how well he could see in the dark—and how little he spoke. They stood, hands on hilts, as he poked his head outside. “All clear,” he murmured.

They filed out and hugged the stone walls while Justan and Billy shut the heavy hatch. Fox led the way, flitting through the shadows, the rest of the crew stealing after him through the winding alleys. He darted down a narrow lane between the shoemakers and the tannery, and nipped into a shadowy recess between two buildings. Fox jammed his fingers and feet into cracks in the stone and scampered up the side of the building, as agile as a squirrel. Soon, a rope whipped down and dangled in the recess against a stone wall.

Billy didn’t like heights, so he slunk off into the darkness to meet them near the Howler’s latest haunt—a burned-out brewery on the shady side of town, deep in Howler territory.

The rope twitched—Fox’s signal for Brianna to climb up. She grasped it, set her feet against the building, and scaled the wall.

Waiting, Justan edged closer to Anakisha, his breath tickling her ear. “You all right to climb? You’ve had a rough night with that mage, and all.”

“Fine,” she purred, smiling in the dark.

“Good. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.” He squeezed her hand.

The warmth that stole through Anakisha had nothing to do with the night air.

The rope twitched—her turn. Anakisha scaled the building quickly. Her arms and face tingled with warmth by the time she got to the top. It was nothing to do with Justan, of course. Only the exertion. Maybe.

Once Justan joined them, Fox hoisted the rope and tied it around his slim hips.

The undulating rooftops snaked around the winding alleys. In single file and staying low, the crew scrambled over the shingles up onto the ridge of the roof and balanced there, grasping a chimney.

Justan gave them a nod. Fox raced along the ridge and leaped across a narrow gap. Brianna went next. Anakisha pelted across the rooftop and jumped. Her foot caught the lip of the next roof and she stumbled, landing on her knees. Although she’d grazed them, she slithered out of the way so Justan could land. A moment later, he thudded down beside her.

“You all right?” His voice hissed like the scrape of a sword sliding from its scabbard.

She scrambled to a crouch and dusted off her knees. “I’m fine.”

A bloodcurdling howl rose from Bloodlust Alley.

“Come on, let’s go.” Justan took her hand and pulled her across the roof after Fox and Brianna, who were already running along the ledge of the next roof. Fox leaped, his red hair catching the moonlight as he nimbly landed.

They leapt to the next roof. Fox grinned and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “Sore knees, or are you used to it by now?”

Anakisha shrugged his hand off. “I’m fine.” She glowered, but that only made his grin wider.

Fox and Brianna took off along joined rooftops that rose and fell like dragon spines along the winding alleys of Fieldhaven. Justan and Anakisha followed, keeping their tread light. They’d been traversing the rooftops at night for so many moons it was almost second nature—except for that cursed first gap which Anakisha kept muffing. All of the Night Wings gave her no end of ribbing about it.

Soon they got to the Howlers’ turf—the rundown poorer quarter where the Howlers prowled at night.

Fox and Brianna were up ahead, flat on their bellies looking over the edge of the roof. Anakisha dropped to the rooftop and slithered over on her stomach. Better safe than sorry—there was no point copping an arrow in the head. She wriggled forward, the worn shingles smooth under her fingers from years of rain and snow. She peered over the edge, wrinkling her nose at the carcass of a dead bird lodged in the gutter an arm’s length away. Not that the alley below smelled much better—it was full of rotting refuse.

The Howlers lived rough, squatting in the remains of a brewery that had been gutted by fire. Although the charred stone edifice still stood, most of the windows had exploded in the blaze. Along the ground floor, jagged shards gaped in the windows’ hollow maws. The street rats dragged their spoils back to their blackened lair: food and valuables they lifted at the market; coin they extorted from locals; and good old-fashioned pickings from those they robbed or treated to brutal beatings.

Anakisha shook her head. Stella was only nine summers old. These street rats picked on anyone—especially the weak and vulnerable.

Scuffling and voices rose from the twisting alley. Anakisha edged forward, peering over the gutter.

“What are you doing on our turf so late at night?” Purley barked, her dagger at the neck of a man who was backed up against the huge brown shutters over the cooper’s store.

In the sputtering torchlight, his cherry-red velvet cloak was a stark contrast to the dirty worn home-spun of the Howlers arrayed around him. He was obviously a stranger, here for the tournament, or he would’ve known not to come to these parts of town at night.

Lefty swaggered over waving his strongwood staff and shoved his face right up against the man’s as Purley held him at knife point. “What you got for us tonight?” he crooned. His staff was taller than the stranger, but, then again, so was he.

“Maybe I should have a go-round with him,” a sultry voice said as Adora materialized from the shadows. Spike flexed his knuckles and grinned.

Hang on, only four of the Howlers were here tonight. Where was Snitch?

The traveler’s dark eyes flitted over the Howlers. He shook his head. “I have no coin, nothing valuable, only the clothes I’m standing in.”

Anakisha mentally groaned. That was a wide-open invitation for the Howlers to strip him naked. These rats knew no bounds.

“Mighty fine cloak,” Spike snarled. “Give my mother’s teeth for one of those.”

“Your mother ain’t got no teeth.” Lefty snorted.

“Whether she does or not, the cloak’s yours, Spike.” Purley’s dagger flashed, cutting one of the cloak’s ties. She yanked the man forward and the velvet slumped to the ground, pooling behind the traveler’s fine boots.

Spike his foot under the cloak and, in a lightning move, kicked the fabric into the air, caught it and fastened it around his neck. “Blood red. I like it. Won’t show your blood when I beat you to a pulp.” He edged in, teeth flashing in a nasty grin.

Anakisha shuddered. She’d been terrified the first time she’d seen Spike’s teeth. He’d inherited his name by filing his teeth to sharp points. The malice in his eyes along with those evil teeth had made her blood turn icy.

The traveler paled, hands shaking. “I—I… What do you want? I have nothing.” Scarlet welled up on the man’s collarbones, gleaming wetly in the moonlight.

Anakisha drew in her breath with a soft hiss. So Purley hadn’t just cut the cloak.

“You still have a fine pair of boots,” Purley said.

“Let’s see how those boots can dance.” Lefty’s chuckle skittered down Anakisha’s spine. He smacked the butt of his staff on the cobbles, making the man leap. He whacked it again, knocking the man’s shins, then smacked the strongwood onto the cobbles again and again, the dull thud echoing along the alley. The thunks sped up like a battle drum as the man leaped and yelped whenever Lefty struck his legs.

Adora stalked over to the dancing traveler, her willowy figure casting a long shadow against the shutters in the sputtering torchlight. “My turn now.”

Lefty hefted his staff and stepped back, leaving the man panting and wild-eyed as Adora approached. Purley’s eyes never left her target, her dagger glinting as she held it ready.

Adora stalked around her prey, then ran a finger down the traveler’s cheek. “If you have no coin, then pay us in other ways,” she purred, toying with one of his long dark locks, then running a seductive finger down his throat to his collarbone. She drew her finger through the blood, then licked it. “Delicious. I wonder what the rest of you tastes like.” She trailed a finger over his jerkin down his chest to his stomach.

“Stop that. I’m a married man.”

“They’re the best.” Adora giggled. “Much more experience.”

“Back off.” Purley barked. “He’s obviously loaded. You won’t get that sort of payment tonight.” She thrust her dagger under his chin.

The man yelped, and more blood trickled down his neck.

There was no time to lose. Justan, Anakisha, Brianna and Fox shimmied backward over the shingles. Fox grabbed the rope from his waist and fastened it around the chimney. One by one, they slipped down the rear side of the building. Sticking to the shadows in single file, they flitted down the dank passageway between two buildings. Billy was waiting at the mouth of the passage. He gave a quick hand signal and Justan nodded. They raced out of the shadowy passage to confront the Howlers.

“We’re under attack!” A cry rang out from a neighboring rooftop.

Snitch! Sure enough, a pale, skinny face peeped out of an upper story window in the fire-gutted brewery. Lefty spun and raced at Justan’s Night Wing crew. Spike tailed him, sauntering over. There was a flash as Snitch loosed an arrow, aiming straight for Justan.

Anakisha dived, knocking Justan to the ground. The arrow clattered off the stone building behind them and hit the cobbles. Billy bellowed and rushed Lefty. Brianna joined him, whacking her sword against Lefty’s staff as he twirled it at Billy.

Above them, Snitch clambered out the window and shimmied up a rope onto the rooftop of the charred building, his bow and quiver slung over his back. Anakisha scrambled to her feet, wishing she’d brought her bow, and raced toward Spike.

Fox rushed at Purley. Before Fox reached her, Purley kicked the traveler. He crashed into the cobbles. Adora leaped on him, straddling his stomach, facing his feet with her dagger at his groin.

Then Fox was there, slashing his blade at Purley. He lost ground as Purley drove him back with rapid slashes of her dagger. Justan dashed to help Fox, swinging his sword.

Adora ignored them all, tugging the traveler’s boots off. Her victim struggled, but a quick slash of her blade on the inside of his thigh stopped him. Blood soaking his breeches, he whimpered as Adora yanked off his boots and scrambled to her feet. She held the boots aloft. “These are mine,” she yelled triumphantly. I scored ’em fair and square.”

The traveler scuttled sideways on his elbows and haunches like a crab, desperate to get away without being noticed. A fat coin purse bulged at his waist.

Adora lunged and cut it free with her dagger. “You said, ‘Nothing but the clothes I’m standing in.’” She hooted. “Well, now you have only half your clothes and no coin.” She laughed and tucked the purse inside her tunic as the man scrambled to his feet and fled, stocking-footed, down the alley.

“Good work, Adora. Now get stuck in,” Purley bellowed, clashing blades with Fox and Justan.

Brianna struck Lefty’s arm. He cried out, dropping his staff. Billy smacked into Lefty. They sprawled and rolled, pummeling each other’s faces, stomachs and chests. Brianna danced around them, slashing her sword at Lefty whenever he was uppermost. Gods, if Brianna wasn’t careful, she’d slice Billy.

The clouds shifted, the moon bathing the alley in chilly white light. Another of Snitch’s arrows flashed. Anakisha ducked. It zipped overhead and thunked into the cooper’s shutters, the arrowhead sinking deep into the wood.

Spike swaggered, sliding his sword out of his scabbard. Pointed teeth flashing in the moonlight, he lunged at Anakisha. Their swords clashed, the impact jarring her to the elbow. She deflected his thrust and danced out of reach, drawing Spike away from the others. If she could incapacitate him, they may have a chance—as long as they avoided Snitch’s arrows.

Spike’s reach was longer, his arm stronger, and he had a powerful, trained physique. Their blades clashing, he drove Anakisha back toward the fishmonger’s shopfront, the shutters drawn beneath an orange linen awning.

Anakisha stumbled, losing her footing. Gods, she was tiring. She had no way of winning with brute strength. She had to use her wits. Yelling, she darted sideways and swiped at him, smacking his arm with the flat of her blade. He spun and slashed, ripping the fabric of her sleeve. Anakisha jumped and raised her sword. Leaving herself unprotected for an instant, she slashed her blade through the fishmonger’s awning, and dashed off. The heavy fabric fell, knocking Spike off his feet. He yelled and kicked, twisting it around his limbs in his attempt to get free.

Fox was slumped against a building, grasping his arm. Purley and Justan circled each other, twin daggers glinting in their hands. Justan lunged and she deflected. He jumped back, warily looking for an opening. Suddenly, Purley leaped. They went down in a heap of flashing blades. Anakisha rushed over, but she was too late—a moment later Purley was sitting on Justan’s chest, a blade under each of his ears.

There was a swish overhead, and the moonlight was blotted out by broad leathery wings.

“Dragon rider! Scarper!” snapped Snitch, his feet pounding across the rooftop shingles.

Purley scrambled off Justan and ran.

“Justan, are you all right?” Anakisha’s heart pounded as she crouched beside him.

Something hard smacked the back of her head. Pain ricocheted through her skull as footsteps pounded away down the alley. Her knees crumpled and darkness swept in.

Enjoy the rest in Anakisha’s Dragon

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If readers are hoping their fairy godmothers will grant their wishes for fantastical adventures, they’re in for a treat. For 99 cents, they can plan an escape to Enchanted Kingdoms and enjoy the fairytales they loved as children, now twisted into bewitching stories that will transport them to new worlds. Handsome princes, spellbound princesses, kick-butt heroines, dragons, shape shifters and beasts join the fundraising effort in Enchanted Kingdoms.

The effort is spearheaded by J. A. Armitage and Rhianne Parkes, directors of Enchanted Quill Press, and J.A. Culican, director of Dragon Realm Press, small independent publishers who’ve had online success, including their books hitting the USA Today bestseller list multiple times.

On its first day on sale, the Enchanted Kingdoms box set has become an international bestseller, hitting #256 in the entire Amazon Kindle store, and #5 on Apple iBooks.

Armitage says, “We’re delighted to support such a worthy cause and know Puzzle Peace United makes a real difference to the families of autistic children. With the Enchanted Kingdoms box set, we’ll add some magic to their lives by enthusing fantasy readers around the world to support their cause.”

Rhianne Parkes adds, “We’ve had a lot of readers purchase this 99c box set of twenty novels because they have family members who have Autism. It’s great to see everyone get behind the project.”

J.A. Culican, who is both a USA Today Bestselling author and president of Puzzle Peace United, is thrilled the authors have chosen to raise funds for the non-profit organization. Culican holds a masters in special education and has taught students with Autism for over fifteen years. She also has a daughter on the autistic spectrum.

“We work with parents, teachers, schools, businesses, community leaders and families to enhance the lives of children with Autism,” Culican says of Puzzle Peace. “It’s wonderful to add an international team of authors to our support crew. I hope everyone gets behind this initiative and helps Enchanted Kingdoms to succeed.”

As well as J.A. Culican, many of these fantasy authors have worked in the health arena or have friends or family members with Autism. Some are former nurses, mental health workers and one is a transformational life coach, but they all have something in common — compassion for those on the autism spectrum, and a desire to help readers escape to other worlds.

Their tales span a variety of genres that reflect each author’s passion — traditional high fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, historical fantasy and fairytale retellings. All of the novels are suitable for young adults.


When local award-winning New Zealand authors Eileen Mueller and A.J. Ponder heard about the initiative, they were thrilled to join the cause and teamed up to write a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, using modern fantastical characters.

“We both have friends or family with Autism and wanted to be part of an intentional effort to make a difference,” says A.J. Ponder, who writes fantasy for children and young adults.

Eileen Mueller, author of the bestselling young adult dragon series Riders of Fire, of which two books hold NZ Storylines Notable Book Awards, adds, “We couldn’t resist adding dragons to our story. Snow and Red is a paranormal romance in an urban fantasy setting with dragon shapeshifters, street gangs and mages. Our teen  advance reading team loved the story so much we’re developing it into a series, The Dragon Shifters’ Hoard, which will launch in 2022.”

“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Mueller. “Just the sort of virtual adventure the world needs during these covid-stricken times.”

Ponder adds, “We’re very happy with the international reception to Enchanted Kingdoms and hope Puzzle Peace does well.”

Fairytale retellings include:

Alice in Wonderland by J. A. Armitage and J.A. Culican
Cinderella by Kimbra Swain
Snow White and Rose Red by Eileen Mueller and A.J. Ponder
Beauty and the Beast by Beth Hale
Aladdin by Zara Quentin
Rumpelstiltskin by Craig Halloran
Sleeping Beauty by Stacey O’Neale
Wizard of Oz by Amanda Marin
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Lacy Sheridan
Red Riding Hood by May Dawson
Rapunzel by Anne Stryker
Robin Hood by Jacque Stevens
Little Match Girl by Lee Ann Ward
The Snow Queen by Laura Burton and Jessie Cal
Little Mermaid by Nadira Golde
The Pied Piper by Alice Ivinya
Mulan by Charlotte Daniels and Charlie Daniels
The Girl without Hands by Daphne Moore & D. Fischer
Nix of the Mill Pond by Astrid V.J
Thumbelina by Robin D. Mahle and Elle Madison

Look at all the gorgeous covers!

Enchanted Kingdoms