She tilted her head to one side. “Would it be possible to see the dragons?”
“I will walk with you to the Dragon Riders’ staging grounds. We’ll beg permission.” Gwenda practically shivered and squealed with excitement, putting Catriona in mind of a giddy teenager being offered the opportunity to meet her favorite rock star.
She finished her breakfast, drank her morning cup of sparkling water from the Pool of Dreams, and submitted to a quick wash before Gwenda brought over a forest green gown, brilliantly white shift, and soft, brown leather shoes. She allowed Gwenda to dress her and then obediently sat still while the maid brushed out her long, long hair and wove the length into a complicated plait.
She availed herself of Gwenda’s support as she rose from the padded stool and reminded her wobbly legs that walking was not a lost art, but something she’d been doing regularly since she was fourteen months old. Their progress was slow, interspersed with frequent rests.
“The Palace aids you,” Gwenda said in a confidential tone. “It must approve of you to be so solicitous to your needs.”
“That’s…” Catriona let the expression of disbelief die a quick death. After all, she apparently now lived in the land of the impossible. She started again, “That’s very kind and generous of it. Everything I’ve seen thus far has been beautiful, so lovely and elegant.” It helped that the praise was honest; the edifice indeed exemplified the very notions of elegant and lovely as applied to architecture. She imagined she could feel the palace’s pleasure in her compliment.
Well, that was weird. Very weird.
As they walked, Catriona noticed the sidelong looks she received and wondered at them.
“Gwenda, have I offended or is my face smudged?”
“No, my lady, why do you ask?”
“People keep looking at me strangely.”
“Oh, it has been centuries, perhaps millennia, since a moon-born has walked these halls. None but the most ancient of the palace’s residents would remember it.”
“And what does moon-born mean?”
“That, my lady, is a question for the captain. Oh, look, there is the gate to the southern courtyard! We are nearly there. Would you like a short rest?”
“If there’s a bench outside where I can sit down, then I’d prefer to do that. I’ve not been outside since I... er... came here.”
“If there is not a bench, I will ask the household staff to bring one for you,” Gwenda said stoutly. “Here, lean on my arm. I shall support you.”
Catriona’s breath panted harshly as they passed through the gate into soft sunshine. A breeze, fragrant with the scent of earth and wildflowers, caressed her flushed face and neck. She lifted her face skyward, simply enjoying a moment in the sun.
Then she looked across the staging area and, unfortunately, there was nothing to see other than a handful of whipcord men dressed in tight leather. It was then she realized that every person she had seen had hair ranging from pure white to palest gold. With her midnight tresses, it was no wonder people cast her odd looks.
The snap of leather wings disrupted her thoughts. She followed the sound and gaped at the sight of the descending dragon. Its scaly hide showed scarlet at muzzle and shoulders and the tip of its long, snakelike tail. Scarlet blended to brilliant orange and then to green.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed in awe. Then another thought occurred: “It won’t eat us, will it?”