The Dragon Guard’s Duty by Harmony Raines

 

Chapter One – Matheus

“I never saw my life taking this path.” Matheus tugged at the jacket he wore that made up part of his uniform. It was too new, the fabric too stiff, leaving him with a sense of claustrophobia, as if he was hemmed in with no escape.

It’s a uniform, not a straitjacket, his dragon snorted.

His dragon. Who thought it was a good idea when their father, Lorelis, the new leader of the dragon shifter council on Cairnnor, asked him to join the recently founded branch of the dragon guard that would be attached to the police force on Wishing Moon Bay.

“It looks good on you.” Gideon smothered a smile as he brushed his hand across Matheus’s shoulder. “And you’ll soon wear it in.”

“Does that mean you think we’ll be busy?” Matheus sauntered to the window of the apartment he shared with Gideon and stared out across the ocean. Somewhere over the horizon was the dragon isle of Cairnnor, the place he used to call home.

It’s still our home,his dragon replied. But this is an important job. Especially in the next few weeks and months. When things settle down, they might not need this task force.

You sound like our father.Matheus turned away from the view and crossed the living room to the small kitchen area, where he poured two cups of fresh coffee.

Because our father was right. That’s why we volunteered. His dragon settled down for a nap with his massive head on the ground. You do remember volunteering, don’t you?

Matheus didn’t answer as he handed a cup of coffee to Gideon. “So, what does our great leader need us to do today?”

Gideon chuckled as he accepted the coffee cup. “I’m not the leader of anything here in Wishing Moon Bay. That role belongs to Chief Armstrong.”

“He certainly likes to flex his authority.” Matheus perched on the edge of the counter and grinned. “I don’t think they need us here, Chief Armstrong could control the dragon shifters who visit the town with the sheer force of his will. And his steely stare.”

Gideon nodded, his tone serious. “You’re not wrong. He certainly does like to flex his authority. But I’m giving the guy some slack since his heart seems to be in the right place. He’s trying his best to make it work. It’s all new to him and it’s not exactly a change he’s had any say in. We’re lucky to have him in charge, he’s sympathetic to the people of Cairnnor and respects their imminent newfound freedom. Which is more than can be said for the Panjarans.”

“True. Although, personally, I think he’s working hard so that he can avoid all the wedding arrangements.” Matheus drained his coffee and put the cup in the sink. “Saffron came to the station yesterday to talk about flowers for the ceremony. Chief Armstrong spent fifteen minutes closeted in his office picking out flowers and discussing color schemes. He spent the whole time looking at his watch before telling Saffron he needed to drill everyone in the station on the local laws and procedures of Wishing Moon Bay. Which was news to us.”

Gideon gazed into the distance, a wistful expression on his face. “I can’t blame him, I’m not much of a flower man myself. But he should be thankful he’s found a woman to spend the rest of his life with. Most shifters would give anything to find their mate.”

“Agreed.” Matheus tugged at his jacket again and then stretched his arms out in front of him. “Okay, it’s time I got going. I have to wear this uniform in some more.”

“I am going to get some sleep.” Gideon stretched and yawned. “I shouldn’t have drunk that cup of coffee. Caffeine has a habit of keeping me awake and I wanted to get a few hours’ sleep. I am not used to night shifts. I haven’t done them in Cairnnor for years. They always fell to the dragon guard with lower ranks.”

“When we get a couple of new recruits, we can delegate the night shifts to them. Until then, we’ll just have to do them on a rotation.” Matheus headed toward the door.

If we get new recruits with a lower rank,” Gideon said. “The council is wary of sending any inexperienced dragon guard to Wishing Moon Bay. The last thing they need is a diplomatic emergency involving those who are supposed to protect the people here.”

“True.” Matheus cracked a smile. “But then again, Chief Armstrong would take great pleasure in teaching them the laws of the land rather than discussing wedding music or catering or the countless other things that are still on Saffron’s list.”

“If those are the only problems he has to cope with, I’ll be happy.” Gideon inched toward his bedroom.

“That’s true. Goodnight, Gideon.”

“Have a good day, Matheus.” Gideon yawned once more. “I’ll see you for dinner. Or breakfast, I can’t decide what to call it. Or what to eat.”

“Go get some sleep.” Matheus was not looking forward to his night shifts, but it was only fair they each had a turn. He found it hard to swap from day shifts to night shifts. He just got used to a routine and then it all changed again.

We could probably sleep on the job, his dragon told him as they headed out of the apartment. So far there have been no disturbances at night.

And the moment one of us decides to sleep on the job, there will be a disturbance and all hell will break loose. Matheus strode out into the middle of the street and shifted into his dragon. With a strong downward beat of his wings, he leaped into the air and rose above the town.

It sure beat driving to work like the rest of the population of Wishing Moon Bay.

As he soared over the rooftops, he looked down at the string of cars lining up at a set of traffic lights near the center of town. What a waste of time. He felt sorry for the people who never got a chance to experience life on the wing.

We used to feel sorry for people who had a regimented life. Those who worked to the ticking of the clock and yet here we are. His dragon eyed the distant mountains.

You were the one with a strong sense of duty, Matheus replied.

His dragon sighed. Perhaps you should have talked me out of it before we agreed to join the dragon guard. I liked it better when we chose how and when to help our people.

It’s too late now. Matheus had agreed to work with the dragon guard for as long as it took to ensure peace between the people of Wishing Moon Bay and Cairnnor. It was like writing a blank check but instead of money, he was paying with time. With his life. Day by day. Week by week. Year by year.

His dragon landed in front of the station and shifted. Perhaps they would feel more settled if they found their mate. Being free to leave Cairnnor whenever they wanted meant the world outside of their homeland had opened up to him. A world that might contain his mate.

However, she wasn’t in Wishing Moon Bay, Matheus had searched it from end to end just to be sure. He wanted to search the whole world over. She had to be out there somewhere. But Wishing Moon Bay was the place he was tied to. His duty to his father, and his people, meant he couldn’t leave to search other lands or the world beyond.

“Matheus. You’re early.” Luna met him in the doorway with a coffee cup in her hand. She stepped outside to meet him. An experienced police officer and soon-to-be daughter-in-law to Chief Armstrong, Luna was strong-willed but fair. She was also the mate of their friend Egan. Both Matheus and his dragon liked and respected her. Even if she did like to tease them, just a little.

“Am I?” He hated being late and always left the apartment in plenty of time to get to work. Which was ridiculous since the flight only ever took a couple of minutes and it’s not as if he would ever get stuck in traffic like the cars on the ground.

“You are.” She held her cup in two hands. “Which is a good thing since the chief has a special job for you this morning.”

“He does?” Matheus strode toward the station. At last, his skills were going to be put to good use.

“Yes.” Luna smothered a smile as she walked backward toward the door. She was playing with him. This task was not going to need his skills at all.

“Are you going to tell me what it is, or do I have to hear it from the chief?” Matheus stepped past her into the station. He quickly assessed the people inside the building, it was a habit he’d gained from the years of watching his father’s back during Argothorn’s reign.

Luna caught hold of his arm. “If Egan was free, I’d ask him to do this...”

“Is this wedding business?” Matheus asked bluntly.

She nodded, her mood sobering as she acknowledged his disappointment. “My mom ordered some wedding favors from Simply Wonderful, it’s a small business situated in the mountains. She needs them picked up today or she might not be able to pick them up at all. Here are the directions.” She handed him a piece of paper and he glanced at the small map she’d drawn. “Do you think you can find it?”

“Sure.” He nodded. “I have some knowledge of the area.”

“I know it’s a long way to go but Ellen makes the most unique items. They’re made from sea glass from the beach and pressed flowers from her...” Luna waved her hand at him. “You don’t need to know any of that.”

“I would appreciate you sparing me the details.” He softened his stance, realizing he must appear hostile. Which he was, not to Luna, but to the idea that he was being used as a delivery service for the chief of police.

“It’s a slight emergency,” Luna continued. “Ellen, who owns Simply Wonderful, has been out of town for a couple of weeks. She’s moving away and has been trying to find somewhere to live...”

Matheus arched a questioning eyebrow at Luna. “Is this relevant?”

She grinned and shook her head. “I love how dragons are so direct.”

“No, you don’t.” He cracked a smile as she brushed a stray tendril of her unruly hair back from her face.

“No, I don’t.” Luna glanced toward Chief Armstrong’s office. “Would you please go pick up the wedding favors? For me, for my mom...and for the chief.”

“Wedding favors. I don’t think that was what my father envisioned when he asked me to be part of this task force.” However, Matheus would enjoy a trip into the mountains. The weather was glorious and the prospect of a few hours of peace lightened the weight he was shouldering. It would give him time to think about his future.

Or come to terms with it, his dragon answered dryly.

Or come to terms with it,Matheus agreed. He needed a plan, to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He could accept working for the dragon guard for a couple of years, but he didn’t want that for the rest of his life.

Because we want to find our mate,his dragon said mournfully.

Exactly. Matheus was in his early forties. He’d always dreamed of a family, of having a mate and children. And since his mate wasn’t on Cairnnor and she wasn’t in Wishing Moon Bay, he’d have to search the rest of the world.

Which could take a lifetime. His dragon wasn’t exactly helping. I’m being realistic. We might never find our mate. We might never have children. But we do have a duty to protect those who can’t always protect themselves.

We do.They had been raised by a man who had always put others before his own safety. Matheus loved and admired his father and he’d strived to follow in his footsteps. But Lorelis had been fortunate to find his mate when he was young. He had a family. Would he have been so committed to the people if his need to find his mate had pulled him in a different direction?

“Shifters.” Luna’s exasperated tone pulled him away from his troubled thoughts.

“Shifters?” Matheus repeated.

Luna waved her fingers in front of his eyes. “You kind of disappear. It’s like you go to another place.”

“Sorry. I was talking to my dragon,” he explained.

“I know, Egan does exactly the same thing.” She pursed her lips. “I get the feeling that being part of this new dragon guard attachment isn’t what you envisioned your life to be.”

He jerked his head back. “I’m fully committed to keeping the peace between our people.”

Luna’s expression softened. “I’m not questioning that. But when I first met you in the remote village on Cairnnor, you seemed more...settled.”

“We never know where our lives will lead us. This is my path for now. I have no regrets.” He cracked a smile. “That’s not true. I have one regret.”

“Not finding your mate?” Luna asked.

“How did you guess?” Matheus said dryly.

“I might not be a shifter, but I’ve met enough of them to know that meeting your mate is the most important thing in your life. It’s a defining moment. It’s what makes you complete.” Luna’s eyes were misted with tears.

“Is everything okay, Luna?” Matheus ducked his head as she wiped her hand across her eyes.

“Yeah. I’m just excited and so happy for my mom. She’s always been there for me and it’s just...the wedding arrangements...” Luna blotted her eyes with her sleeve.

“Is there something else?” He arched an eyebrow at her.

“Like what?” Luna’s forehead creased.

“You and Egan...” He glanced down and she immediately went pale and covered her belly with her hand.

“I...” She shook her head. “Do you think?”

Matheus laughed out loud. “I don’t know, this is your relationship, your body. I might not have been lucky enough to have a mate and a child of my own...yet...however...”

“Oh, goodness.” She put her hands to her cheeks. “Please don’t say anything to anyone.”

“I won’t. I promise.” He placed his hand over his heart. “But a baby is something to celebrate.”

“First, I don’t know if I am...you know... And secondly, I don’t want to overshadow the wedding. It’s only a couple of weeks away. And if I am...” She sucked in a deep breath. “It’s very, very early.”

“I won’t tell anyone.” He stepped away from her and headed back toward the road. “But if you are, will you tell me?”

“After I tell Egan.” She nodded. “As long as you promise not to treat me any differently.”

“I promise.” Matheus nodded and then shifted before leaping into the air.

That might be a promise that’s hard to keep,his dragon said.

I know.Matheus grinned at the prospect of his friend Egan having a child. Perhaps his fate was to watch over other people’s children.

Perhaps it is. His dragon flew toward the mountains, the wind in his face and joy in his heart.

It was a duty he would gladly fulfill.