The Dragon King(3)

By: Candace Blevins

I’d been nervous and anxious for months, so no one paid any attention to my scent anymore. I was perpetually on edge.

It was eight fifteen, and I figured I’d have until the guard shift change at three in the morning before anyone realized I was gone. My current guard wasn’t likely to decide he needed to put eyeballs on me, but I knew they’d look in on me at shift change. They always did.

Swan shifters need to change a minimum of four times a year, at both equinoxes and both solstices. However, since my father didn’t want me leaving the property, when I changed they immediately turned me back human. I’d never been allowed to even try to fly. The rest of the time I wore an anklet my father had brought someone in to create especially for me — it kept me from turning into a swan any other time of year.

I’d spent years combing through the books in our extensive library, and was convinced I’d found a way to defeat the anklet. Years ago, I’d also learned from one of our servants that it was possible for a virgin to change without the normal flogging to rip enough skin away so we could shift into our swan form.

She said one could use a knife to cut a seam from one foot, up the outside of the body, from armpit to fingers on the bottom of the arm, and then fingers to shoulder on the top of the arm, over the head and scalp, skip the right arm and go down the body to the right foot, and then as the left foot comes out and forms, use the claws to rip a seam in the skin from the right arm so it can pull free.

I had a very sharp crafting knife and hoped it would do the job.

Meanwhile, I’d long ago figured out how to defeat the alarm system at my window so I could at least open it and get fresh air. I used a screwdriver to carefully remove the contact from the window’s hardware, taped it to the stationary contact on the window frame, and then slowly opened the window, making sure everything stayed put.

Taking a breath, I poured the hot water from my tea service into the plastic bin that normally held items in the storage area of my closet.

It’d taken me years to assemble the herbs and roots without arousing anyone’s curiosity, and I now dumped them into the bin and stepped into the scalding water. Trusting the concoction would do its job, I bent with the knife, stuck it into my foot just under my ankle bone, and began the excruciating task of literally skinning myself.

I’d known it would hurt, but this was worse than the traditional flogging a virgin must undergo in order to change. I was more than determined, though, so I did it fast and didn’t make a sound, even though I wanted to scream and cry.

Halfway through the process I knew I’d been wrong about having hours until my escape was discovered. They were used to smelling fear on me, but not pain, and certainly not blood. I was going to have to fly for my life and hope they couldn’t keep up. I cut faster, and my blood flowed into the hot water at my feet.

As the knife finally reached the outer edge of my right foot, I stood and imagined myself a swan, thought of how it felt to change after I was flogged, and breathed in relief as I felt the transformation happening. The herbal concoction worked, and the anklet would end up in the water once I turned into a swan and it could come off my foot. As I changed, it only took a few slices with my claw to rip the skin on top of my right arm enough for it to come free of the skin and turn into a wing, thank goodness.

I made it onto the window sill, looked out at the Waccamaw River, and knew if I couldn’t figure out how to fly within a few minutes, and the crash landing didn’t kill me, I needed to find an alligator and hope he was hungry. I was going to either escape or die — I couldn’t live the rest of my life trapped in this house, and being forced to marry Cyrano was the final straw. People might make fun of the Princess trapped in the mansion with anything her heart desired at her fingertips, but this Princess preferred freedom to riches.

I jumped from the ledge, stretched my wings, and breathed in relief as the wind caught them and I soared instead of plummeting. I beat my unfamiliar wings, pointed my head the direction I wanted to go, and it just somehow worked.

I’d spent years on borrowed tablets from various servants, looking through Google Earth so I could find my way to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the offices of Drake Security. I had no idea where Aaron Drake lived, but figured I could find him at work.

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