Heartstone

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers… something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White’s debut historical fantasy Heartstone recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom. Available now from Harper Voyager!

This scene is set just after the Riders arrive at Merybourne Manor, at an outdoor banquet in their honor. Tobble the hobgoblin, who we last saw pelting Alastair Daired with mud, is under orders from the chief of the garden-folk to apologize to the dragonrider, and a reluctant Tobble recruits Aliza to translate. Daired, however, is nowhere to be found…

 

heartstone-hobgoblins

Chapter 3

Daired was not mingling in the crowds near the tables, nor was he among the dancers.

We snagged Anjey as she passed by the bonfire and asked her if she’d seen him or, failing that, if Brysney had. “Cedric just went to look for him,” Anjey said, pointing to where the Shani creatures lounged between—or in the case of the two wyverns, on top of—the stone archways. “I think they’re over there.”

“She’s looking happy,” Tobble said as we made our way across the Hall.

“She’s made a friend.”

“Lovely. Er, Aliza? Would you mind steering a bit more to the right?” he whispered in my ear. “I think that blue wyvern just licked its lips.”

I rolled my eyes but did as he said, not because I feared Bluescale might swoop down and snatch him from my shoulder, but because neither Brysney nor Daired were near them. “Look, if you’re really so worried about it, can’t Hobblehilt just send a note?”

“There! They’re back there, behind that arch. See?”

I looked. Beyond the ruined wall, the two Riders stood close together. Even from a distance they appeared to be deep in conversation.

“Don’t be silly! I’m not going to walk up and interrupt them.”

Tobble smiled. “Of course not. We’ll wait on the other side until they’re finished. But nice and close, so we can hear.”

A reflexive no rose to my lips, but cursed curiosity dug its claws into me once more, and my no was stillborn. I sighed. “You’re a bad influence, Tobble Turn-of-the-Leaves. You know that, right?”

“Yes, yes. Now shh. I want to listen.”

The musicians resumed a rollicking jig, which gave us plenty of cover to sneak closer. Keeping my head low, I sat on an overturned paver around the corner from the Riders. Tobble leapt down onto the grass and pressed his ear to a crack the stone.

He needn’t have bothered. Neither Brysney nor Daired made any effort to lower their voices. “Great gods, Alastair, you’re impossible,” Brysney said. “Are you even capable of enjoying yourself?”

“Not really, no. Certainly not here.”

“You’re being absurd. The country is a lovely place.” Brysney breathed deeply. “Edonarle doesn’t have fresh air like this.”

“That’s cow dung you’re smelling.”

“Yes, scoff all you like, you damp toadstool. I like it here. Given enough time, I might even love it. Charis was right; it’s exactly what I needed. Might be a nice change for you too if you’d let it.”

“I’m glad you like it, Cedric. Truly, I am,” Daired said, sounding weary, “but I only came to this godsforsaken smudge-on-the-map because Charis asked me to, and because you needed a few familiar faces. We’re here to do a job, not…” He seemed to be searching for the right words. “Fraternize with the locals.”

“Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the scenery.”

“Trees and mud and vermin-infested gardens. Not much to enjoy.”

“I wasn’t talking about the gardens.”

“You can’t seriously like these people, Cedric.”

“Why not?”

“There’s not a soul out there who’d have the first idea how to gut a gryphon, even if we laid it out dead in front of them and put the knife in their hand. The best of them would be worthless in battle.”

“Not that I don’t appreciate a good gutting,” Brysney said, “but there are other skills in the world worth cultivating.”

“Name one.”

“Dancing.”

Daired groaned. “Thell have mercy and kill me now.”

“The great Alastair Daired, frightened by a country jig? If only the Broodmother of Cloven Cairn could see you now! She’d have given the wings off her back to find out your true weakness before you cut off her head.”

“Give me a coven of lamias any day over a jig.” Daired spoke the word like a curse. “In any case, you looked enough of a buffoon out there for both of us. I won’t add to your embarrassment.”

“Believe me, even if you did make a fool of yourself, I’d be the last one to notice. I’ve had more pleasant things on my mind.”

There was a pause. “Are you talking about that girl? The one you were dancing with?”

“I wondered if she’d caught your eye,” Brysney said with new enthusiasm. “I’ve met my share of pretty women, Alastair, but I’ve never known real beauty until tonight. Oh, don’t make that face. If you saw her, you know it’s true.”

“I’m color-blind, not actually blind. Yes, she’s pretty. It doesn’t mean anything. You’ve courted enough brainless women to know that by now.”

“Anjey is nothing like them,” Brysney said, his voice growing warm. “Any of them. Hard as it may be for you to believe, I have learned from my mistakes.”

“Prove it.”

“Anjey’s more than a beautiful face; she’s clever and witty and kinder than any of the others. She came to Charis’s defense the instant Harborough Hatch was brought up.”

“Came to her defense?” Daired sneered. “What, did she drop her bonnet? Or swoon to create a distraction?”

The smile that had risen to my lips faded.

“She changed the subject.”

“That doesn’t count,” Daired said. “Half of Arle knows that Harborough Hatch is a painful memory for you and Charis. This girl’s no cleverer than the last because she—what?”

Brysney’s laughter drowned out Daired’s protests. “I get it now! You’re still in a foul mood from this afternoon. Admit it! That’s why you won’t enjoy any of this.”

“I was pelted with mud by a band of feral hobgoblins on my way to the last place in Arle I wanted to be,” Daired growled. “Have you ever tried scrubbing mud out of chain mail? Of course I’m in a foul mood, and why are you still laughing?

“Hobgoblin Girl—the one you told me about—I just realized who she is!”

“Don’t tell me.”

“‘Dark hair, high cheekbones, wears flowers in her braid’? I’m no poet, but that sounds a lot like Anjey’s sister.”

Daired murmured something I couldn’t make out.

“Aliza’s her name, in case you wanted to know.”

“I didn’t,” Daired said, “but let me guess. You’re going to tell me that charm and wit run in this extraordinary family.”

“Mhm. Beauty too. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.”

“The girl wasn’t… plain,” he said after a prickly silence.

“So?”

“So what?”

“So why not go find her? If you won’t dance, at least strike up a conversation. What’s the harm? You’ve already been, ah, introduced.”

“And that was more than enough for me. Pretty or plain, I’ve got better things to do than socialize with a country wench who spends her time in the company of garden pests.”

Tobble leapt for the crack in the wall, his little fists balled at his side, sputtering Gnomic curses. Just in time I caught his arm and pulled him back.

“These ‘better things’ you speak of,” Brysney said, “would they consist of skulking around in the shadows like a warty gremlin? Because if that’s the case, my friend, then there really is no hope for you.”

“So you keep telling me.”

“Alastair, please.” Brysney’s voice grew serious. “If you won’t go out there for me or for these people, do it for Charis. She’s having a hard time without Redtail. She won’t admit it, but I can feel her pain. She misses him.”

Daired was silent for a moment. “All right,” he said, “but I swear, if you try and make me dance, tomorrow morning your armor will be hanging from the highest branch of the tallest tree in Hart’s Run, and I’ll give Silverwing six head of cattle not to bring it back for you.”

“You know what?” Brysney said. “That wouldn’t even begin to dampen my spirits.”

Excerpted from Heartstone © Elle Katharine White, 2017

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