Dragon Heir is the second in the Dragons on Kaitstud series. It is a young adult epic fantasy series starring shifters and dragons in a world where music is magical. It is the story of a girl searching for her family and finding more than she ever expected.
Dragon Shift saw Birgith searching for her dragon family, now in Dragon Heir she is forced to choose between them and her bear family, in order to keep them all safe. Will she be able to? What will it cost?
Beware, the following contains SPOILERS for book one, so only read if you are sure you want to know.
A few teasers before we get to the text:
It is dual point of view, as it follows both Birgith and Haydn. (And yes, SPOILER ALERT, they do meet up again!)
It starts about a week after the last book ended (if you want to read some bonus scenes that happen in between, then sign up for my newsletter and check out the freebies page)
We find out more about the Conservatoire and how their magic works
Haydn is reunited with an old childhood friend, but will she help them?
Her brothers make everyone laugh a few times.
Leonie returns, and you’ll never guess who she’s hooked up with!
Birgith’s aunt continues to make things difficult for her
Chapter One - The funeral
As dawn approached, Birgith waited outside the Clan Meeting Hall for the start of the funeral of the only person she’d ever killed. Uncertain what would happen, she shivered from foot to foot. Other clan members loitered in doorways round the green, forming darker shadows still indistinct.
The sun barely lit the sky as Uncle Otto’s body, covered in red linen cloths, arrived on a floatship. The musicians, standing at the front of the vessel, propelled it forward with their sombre melody. Their tune drifted over the procession. Thanca, his widow, and the three Bear Clan Councillors led the other clan members through the streets of the Citadel. Their red tunics and white armbands commemorated his life.
Birgith found a place at the tail end of the procession. Her stomach churned, and she shivered in the winter dawn as they set off to parade round the Citadel. She’d never planned to kill anyone, especially not her uncle.
For the three days since they’d arrived back from the Fox Lands, rumours had floated round town. Even Birgith had heard discussions about how the Fox Clan was in league with the dragons. How the Bear Leader was a casualty of a failed coup at the Clan Congress. How Thanca was bereft and determined to honour the memory of her late partner. Most of the stories were far more colourful than the truth of what had happened. But no one could find out the truth or she and her dragon family would be at risk.
A conglomeration of wooden cabins, the Citadel hugged the river like a cub cradled up to its mother. Considerably larger than Littledenn, where Birgith had grown up, the Citadel was less densely packed than either the wolf or fox towns she had visited. Bears were private people, so they built their houses set back from the paths, allowing more space for the bushes and trees that they depended on.
It took them drams to process from their meeting point outside the Clan Meeting Hall, south along the river to the edge of the town and then round the outskirts of the Citadel til they met the river in the north side of the town. This procession round the city was Otto’s final farewell to the place he’d ruled over.
From there, they made their way inland to the old dragon temple, beyond the trees. Arches towered above the top branches, unlike any building within the Citadel.
Moulded stone with flaking paintwork, fallen blocks, and no roof made it an eerie place. Stepping through the entrance, Birgith felt her joint history with it and the possibility of learning more about her dragon family from its carvings. She wanted to explore, but now wasn’t the time. She forced her feet to follow the group along the corridor into the main area of the temple.
In the centre stood a pyre as tall as Birgith. She was unsure if the roof had always been missing or not, but there was no sign of one now. Given the size the fire would be, the absence meant they wouldn’t set the building aflame.
With reverence, four clan members laid the body on top. Thanca, Otto’s widow, took the flaming torch given to her. With a sniff, she thrust it into the dry wood. It took easily and soon flames flickered round the whole pyre.
A set of players serenaded them with music, which also controlled the fire, ensuring an even and safe burn for the surrounding crowd.
The fire’s warmth took some of the chill off the air. Birgith stared into the flames, remembering Otto’s demise. The look on his face as she killed him. It had been self-defence. He’d stood over her with a sword in his hand. But as far as anyone else knew, she had fought the dragon beside her uncle. In truth, she’d fought her uncle to free the dragon - her brother. That had been the only way she could keep their secret. Still, unable to tell anyone, the guilt ate away at her inside.
Thanca moved through the mostly silent crowd. As a grieving widow, she wore white from head to toe. The fine fabric gleamed in the flickering fire light. Birgith kept an eye on her as she moved through the crowd, worried Thanca was working the situation to ensure the right people saw her.
The woman stopped by Dorset, the Third Councillor for the Bear Clan. Short and fat, next to her tall, stick-thin frame, he had to stretch up to hear what she said. Not that Birgith could hear neither of them over the crackle and sizzle of the flames, and the swooping melody controlling them.
Birgith had met the Council the day before to discuss the events leading to Otto’s death. She’d told them the same story she’d told the Fox Leader at Castilion three weeks before. Fortunately, they hadn’t pressed for more. And to honour her uncle’s last request of them, they’d given her a second chance to demonstrate her ability to shift. Her ability to shift into a bear meant she’d been confirmed as a member of the Bear Clan. At least one benefit had come out of the awful situation.
The music reached a crescendo as the fire blazed. After a sustained note, the players stilled. The flames dissipated, leaving only ash and swirls of smoke behind.
Silence fell. Thanca stepped forward and dipped one finger in the ash, streaking it across her forehead. Then she turned to the assembled people and spoke.
“My Otto dedicated his life to the good of the Bear Clan - his people. In memory of him, I will do the same. Together we can be greater. I would be honoured to serve you during this interim stage til a new leader is chosen. Otto and I worked as a team. It would tarnish his reputation if I dissolved selfishly into the grief I feel losing him. I am determined to be strong and put our beloved clan first. You were his reason, his pride, and his joy. I can do no less in his memory than to continue his work. That shall be his legacy.”
Birgith frowned. Was Thanca really using her husband’s funeral to make a power grab? Did she think the clan members would allow her, a human, to take the reins of their shifter clan? Did she know some loophole that would allow a human widow to be declared the Bear Leader? And what would that mean for the clan if she did?
Birgith needed to investigate how the succession worked. She couldn’t leave the clan in Thanca’s control. Not after she’d threatened to cut out her brother’s heart to become a shifter herself. They’d never be safe if Thanca controlled the clan. Her influence over the Conservatoire was worrying enough, but with the Bear Clan behind her? Birgith shivered to consider what Thanca might use her power for then.
She glanced round. A few sceptical faces, but many applauded and nodded their support. Birgith caught the eye of the First Councillor. He frowned hard. Obviously, Thanca hadn’t discussed it with him beforehand. Or if she had, she hadn’t followed his advice. Wulfric would never have sanctioned a human taking control of the clan.
Thanca stepped back to allow the other clan members to mourn the Bear Leader’s passing. They each stepped forward, dipped one finger in the ash left behind, and streaked it on their cheeks to show their sorrow.
Thanca stood there to hear their condolences and support. A cold wind whistled through the ruins. Specks of soot marred her cream fur-lined boots, as well as the beige cloak she held fast round her. A gust teased strands of her white-blond hair loose from her intricate braid.
Birgith joined the line and slowly made her way towards the front. She didn’t hurry. Many of the others stared, not recognising her. This was her first visit to the Citadel, and she’d kept herself to herself. She found she quite liked the anonymity.
Soon she reached the front of the line. She dipped her finger in the warm, gritty ash. As she swiped them against her cheek, she remembered the good things about her uncle Otto. His desire to look after his clan. His ability to stand up for those weaker than him. And the redeeming fact - that he had made it possible for her to redo her manifestation test a second time.
She approached Thanca to give her condolences.
Her aunt spat on the floor between them. “How dare you show your face here. You are not welcome in this clan.”
“I am here to honour my uncle’s life.” Birgith said calmly. “I am sorry for your loss.” She tried to move on, as the crowd turned to watch the confrontation.
“You have no right to be here. Be gone. Now. Before I have the guards throw you out.” Thanca’s face twisted in rage as she pointed towards the river beyond the Citadel.
A voice spoke from behind Birgith. “As a clan member, Birgith Rupertda is within her right to be here. In fact, it is expected of her. Especially with her familial links to the late Bear Clan Leader.”
Birgith turned and saw Wulfric, the First Councillor, approaching. An older man with tawny skin, he hobbled with his walking stick, determined to have his say. She nodded at him in appreciation.
As far as any of them knew, Otto’s brother had adopted her and brought her up in Littledenn, a village deeper in the forest. Only she knew he truly was her father, and that her mother was the last remaining dragon. They’d had to keep her parentage secret. Otherwise it would’ve triggered a dragon hunt. Though since her brother had been captured, the existence of dragons on Kaitstud was no longer a secret.
“She is no member of my clan.” Thanca drew herself up tall.
Wulfric sighed. He lowered his voice, so he was only audible to those near him. “It is not your clan, Thanca. We are very sorry for your loss, and for the loss the entire clan must bear without him. But now the council will work to appoint the new leader. You can return to your family, or stay here in the cabin you shared with Otto. But the business of ruling the Bear Clan is no longer your responsibility.” His black cloak billowed round him. He leant on his walking stick as he stared Thanca down.
She scowled at him. “Be warned, that upstart and her father are working to overthrow you and your precious council. Just you wait and see.”
Birgith squashed the indignant retort that rose inside her.
Wulfric lifted his chin. “I know you and Otto were concerned about Rupert. But there has been no evidence he has in any way subverted anything. As far as the council can tell, he is living a quiet life as the Lord Warden in Littledenn. He hasn’t set foot in the Citadel since Otto claimed the leadership.”
“Humph. You don’t see what’s right in front of your nose.”
“If you have any other reports, then bring them to the council. But we have never seen him as a threat.”
Relief washed through Birgith.
Thanca pointed at her. “What about her actions, then? She killed him. I know it. She will never be a clan member while I have anything to say about it.”
“The council confirmed her as a member of the Bear Clan at our meeting yesterday. We entered her into the registry, with all the council as witnesses.”
Thanca stopped moving.
“While her second testing was unusual.” Wulfric admitted. “There is no way to deny her, as she can shift into a bear. Whoever her parents really are, at least one of them is part of this clan, and so is she.”
Thanca glared at her. “You are holding up the line. These people are here to see me. Move along now.”
Birgith had no option but to continue away from the pyre and the scheming widow standing next to it. Wulfric stayed behind to speak to Dorset. She didn’t wait for him. No, that might appear to Thanca like collusion. Birgith felt the stares and whispers. Whereas before she had been standing in the crowd as an unknown, now she was a person of interest. Someone involved in the centre of the struggles. And she didn’t want to be there.
Holding herself together, she ignored the whispers and prying eyes as she strode back to the inn where she was staying.
Chapter Two - What to do?
The following morning, Birgith descended the stairs from her rented room. Behind the bar the lady owner sat polishing a collection of silverware.
“Any messages for me?” Birgith knew what the answer would be, but she had to ask.
The older lady shook her head. “No dear. Not today.”
With a sigh, Birgith headed out into the winter sunshine. Hopefully no message meant her father was on his way. It had been a week since she’d sent her message, so it couldn’t be too much longer now. Either for him to come in person, or for a message from him to arrive.
Birgith was at a loose end after the funeral. She didn’t want to leave the Citadel until they made a decision about the new Bear Leader. Yet she had nothing to do and was no closer to a decision of where to go next. So she wandered round the market, hoping to spot her friends Drina and Haydn.
It had only been a few weeks since she’d left the two travelling traders in Castilion, the Fox Leader’s city on the other side of the mountains. They planned to stay there til the spring, when the mountain pass was clear again. Despite knowing the unlikelihood of seeing them, she still serpentined through the stalls in search of the familiar floatship with their stand of wares in front. Maybe they’d still have some of Leonie’s weavings, or those pottery mugs. And no doubt a new selection of things from the places they’d been since.
Really, she sought Haydn, though she doubted he would be interested in seeing her again. Even if he refused to talk to her, it would be nice to see him. Her hands drifted to her mouth, the memory of his lips on hers tarnished by the fact she’d left him afterwards. She’d left part of herself with him too, whatever she’d said to him about moving on. She’d had no choice.
Birgith sighed, pulling her cloak close against a sharp wind. There was no point pining after someone she couldn’t have. Better to think of the future.
The other face she sought was her father’s. She’d expected him to arrive before his brother’s funeral. Birgith refused to consider that his missing the ceremony meant he wasn’t coming. No, he had to be. He had to be part of the choosing of the next Clan Leader. Didn’t he?
Birgith studied the old warehouses at the far end of the market. She’d grown up in the Bear Clan, but never visited the Citadel. As an official member of the clan, she had to make sure the next Clan Leader would be worthy of the title. But without her father, she had no access to those discussions. His claim of finding her as a child meant they didn’t see her as a viable successor to Otto. Not that she wanted to lead the clan, just to make sure that it wasn’t Thanca or one of her friends.
So Birgith tarried at the Citadel waiting for her father to arrive, haunting the market with the stalls that weren’t the familiar floatship.
Her father had to come. He had to take part in choosing the successor. Even though losing out to his brother last time had crushed him, and he hadn’t visited the Citadel since. If he didn’t then how long should she wait before returning to the forest and her father?
Did she dare go? Thanca might take over the Bear Clan with no one to oppose her. She seemed to hold sway over the Conservatoire already. The group trained all the music players, and so controlled all the magic. They were supposed to be neutral among the clans, advising them all without preference. Hearing her aunt and the Grand Master discuss using a dragon’s heart to create a more powerful group of shifters had scared Birgith. Even now, she feared for her dragon family. They wouldn’t just be killed if anyone captured them, but dissected and used to help those two take over the whole of Kaitstud.
Birgith couldn’t allow Thanca to continue having an influence over the Bear Clan. She may have only just been granted membership, but that didn’t make her responsibility to them any less. The clan had brought her up without knowing who she was,. For that, she owed them. If there was any way she could repay them by thwarting Thanca’s bid for the clan leadership, then that was what she needed to do, wasn’t it?
Though her dragon family needed her, too. The little time she’d spent with them hadn’t been enough. She couldn’t wait to visit the valley again and get to know them better. To learn more about her dragon heritage and how to be a dragon. Her mother had only skimmed the surface of the history and culture that was her birthright. Exploring the valley and all the ruins would be a lifetimes work.
Then there were her three brothers. She was their key to the wider world. Without her, Nikulas had been captured. They needed her to teach them how to interact like a human and live beyond their mountains. With their existence no longer secret, it was more important than ever that they integrate. Hopefully her promise to return would be enough to hold them in the valley until then. And that the Fox Clan didn’t tempt an expedition into the mountains to capture another dragon.
Her brothers’ restlessness had settled since they’d found her. Through the bond between them, she could feel her brothers. At this distance, they were indistinct and fuzzy, but she felt all three were safe and content. They must have made it back there. Good, that was one worry off her mind.
Too many lives relied on her. Too many conflicting priorities her honour called her to do.
Now, where was her father? She hadn’t spent time alone with him since she failed the manifestation test that classed her as a human nearly two seasons ago. He had arranged for her to leave the confines of the human settlement with Haydn’s trading caravan, but she hadn’t been able to say farewell to him. So much had happened since.
She made her way to the edge of the water and sat on the wall overlooking the river. Her eye followed the shimmering surface towards the sea. Somewhere beyond her view, small islands sat in the mist in the estuary. Haydn had talked about visiting them. They weren’t out-of-bounds per se, but no one went there. Birgith supposed now she was a clan member no one would stop her, but she didn’t know what was there. Her only interest was as a remembrance of Haydn. Without him, her desire faltered.
“There she is.” A gruff voice jolted her from her memories.
Birgith turned her head. Three people made their way towards her. The largest man had a full black beard and a grey cloak. He threw back the hood of the cloak as he approached.
With a start, she recognised his face. “Father?” Her heart raced. He was here. She ran the few steps to meet him.
Beyond him stood a young man, his blond hair slicked behind his ears, carrying a large sack over his shoulder. Of course, Fergus was his apprentice now. She should have expected him to come as well. But walking arm in arm with Fergus, was Leonie. Her honey blonde hair hung round her shoulders. Under her navy cloak Birgith spotted a woolen jumper that matched the one Fergus wore. What was her human friend doing with them?
Birgith embraced her father, inhaling his familiar scent of pine and smoke. “You made it.”
The tension inside her relaxed. Her father had arrived. Everything would be alright.
He held her at arm’s length and looked her over. “I’m so glad to see you. Come. Let’s find our cabin and you can tell me everything that’s happened.”
She tucked her arm round his waist, and he put his arm round her shoulders. They walked back through the streets, away from the river.
Birgith dared a glance at Leonie. She smiled warmly back. Hopefully, that meant she’d forgiven Birgith. Their last conversation had been a silly argument before the trading floatship whisked Birgith away from the human village.
Her father, Rupert, like all grown Bears had a cabin in the Citadel and one in the outer villages. Most bears split their time between the two, but this was the first time he had been back in the Citadel since they had passed him over for the clan leadership role eighteen summers before.
Birgith had tried to get the caretaker to open her father’s cabin for her. But she didn’t have her clan papers and had never visited, so he’d turned her away. Thankfully, Birgith had exchanged the dragon gold her mother had given her for more Bear currency than she’d ever seen before. It was more than enough to cover her room and board at an inn.
They entered the enclave where their cabin was. Her father glanced around. “If I remember correctly, it’s this way.” He look at her for confirmation.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. They wouldn’t let me stay there without proof I was your kin, or instructions from you.”
Her father’s jaw tightened. He scanned the area, then marched directly to the caretaker, stacking wood beside another cabin. “I expected my cabin to be open and my daughter to be residing there. Why is this not the case?”
The small man cringed. “Daughter? Sorry, Lord Warden, but I had no instructions from you. I can’t let any stray girl into your cabin without confirmation.” He looked around the group. “Shall I prepare everything for you now?”
Her father nodded. “There will be four of us staying, for the foreseeable future.” He pointed at each of them. “My daughter, my apprentice, and his liaised human.”
Fergus and Leonie had an official liaison? Birgith stared at her friend, who winked back at her. She needed to find out more about that. Though she wasn’t certain about the idea of Fergus joining them in the cabin.
Her father continued. “So that will be two clan members and two humans. And if you have any trouble with that-”
“Um, three clan members.” Birgith interrupted.
All four of them stared at her.
“The Council witnessed my ability to shift into a bear the day before yesterday. They confirmed my registration during the Council Meeting. So I’m officially a clan member too.”
Fergus’ eyes hardened. “They can’t do that.”
She shrugged. “They did. If you have a problem, then take it up with the Councillors, not me.”
Rupert’s eyes sparkled as he nodded slowly, then turned back to the caretaker. “In which case, there is no issue. Three clan members and one human.”
The caretaker led them through the trees to a cabin set back away from the others. Even for the Citadel, it was secluded. He opened the door and sniffed. “If I’d had more notice of your arrival, Lord Warden, I’d have arranged for it to be cleaned and aired.” He looked at Leonie. “I will provide you with the tools to do so.”
When the caretaker left, Rupert turned to her. “Birgith, collect all of your belongings from where you’ve been staying, and bring them here.” He searched through his pockets and held out two coins for her. “Pay off your bill and we can settle in.”
Birgith smiled at him. “Keep your coins, Papa. I’ll be back with my things in a dram.”
Her father’s eyes opened wide. “You need to pay for the room. Take the money.”
“It’s under control. Don’t you worry.” She pecked him on the cheek.
She looked at the other two, who stood listening. “I have so much to tell you, Papa. But not right now.” The dragon money was only one of the tings she couldn’t tell Fergus or Leonie. She would have to wait to tell her father until they were alone.
He glanced at the others and nodded. “I see.” He returned the coins to his pocket.
Birgith left the cabin and made her way to the inn with a lightness of spirit she hadn’t felt since before she first heard about the captured dragon in the Fox Lands. Her father was here. He would know what to do about Thanca.
This article was written by Clarissa Gosling.
Clarissa has always lived more in the world of daydream and fiction than in reality. In her writing she explores purpose and belonging across worlds. Having never found her own portal to faeryland, she is resigned to writing about fantastical worlds instead. She now lives in the Netherlands with her family, where she writes as much as they will let her. When not reading or writing, she drinks too much tea and has a burgeoning obsession with Bundt cakes.