Chapter 38
Waking from the Nightmare

Drago's Island, North Pendragon Sea

Aurelia opened her eyes. It was like she had a bad dream, but it was over now. Instead of her goose down mattress, she felt cool grass beneath her. She knew this place. It was the island where Drago would take her for their nighttime escapes. She did not think she had ever seen it by the light of day.
As she sat up, she saw Drago sitting nearby watching her and Linhua leaning against a tree a short distance off. What was she doing here?
"You're awake," Drago said.
"Drago? What's going on?"
"You don't remember?"
Aurelia held her head as she tried to recall what had happened. There were only feelings, impressions; nothing clear. Fear, anger, confusion, sadness... She did not know what it all meant.
"Maybe don't think about it too hard," Drago said.
"She deserves to know," Linhua said in turn.
Linhua approached Amelia and knelt before her.
"Your Highness, this one conspired to deliver you to an alien power along with a man sworn to His Highness Prince Cain and... and your mother the Queen."
Images flashed in Aurelia's mind, fragments of memories, but she could not make much sense of any of it. She looked to Drago for help.
"Drago, what's she talking about?"
Drago could not even look her in the eye. It made her chest ache seeing him like that.
"I'm sorry, Aurelia. I had no choice."
"Do not say you had no choice," Linhua said harshly. "There is always a choice. Take responsibility for your actions."
"You face the Exiled Prince and then talk to me about choice and responsibility!" Drago snapped. It was the first time Aurelia had ever seen him angry. "I turned on my own kind for Aurelia! A human like you can't even begin to understand what that means!"
"What does it mean?" Aurelia asked.
"It means I'm cursed in the eyes of the Mother," Drago replied bitterly. "I will never know her embrace and I have no place among my own. Any Dragon can kill me without bloodguilt. And that's not even the worst of it. If my treason becomes known, my entire tribe will suffer for it."
"What treason? What are you talking about?"
Drago sighed and shook his head.
"Master Forktongue promised my people better treatment if the Exiled Prince took the throne, so the elders of my tribe gave him me to use in his plan. This is a plan that has been in the making since before you were born, Aurelia. You were to be given to the Dark One in exchange for a boon of power that would have allowed the Exiled Prince to seize the throne. Now that the plot has failed, everyone in my tribe could be made to suffer for it. Our lot is already so miserable... but I guess I'll never see any of them again anyway..."
"Drago..."
Aurelia tried to approach him to comfort him, but he shrank from her, like he did not feel he deserved her sympathy.
"I must take responsibility for my actions as well, Your Highness," Linhua said. "Even though it was done to protect you in keeping with the order of your father the King, it... it was by my hand that your mother is dead." She drew a knife and held the edge to her neck. "Only blood can pay for blood."
Aurelia scrambled over to Linhua and took hold of her hand before she could do what she meant to do.
"Linhua, stop!" the Princess cried.
Linhua's hand did not move, neither forward nor back.
"Your Highness, the law demands... honor demands..."
"No, Linhua," Aurelia said. "I won't let you. This isn't the answer."
"Your Highness..."
Looking to both Linhua and Drago, Aurelia then said, "I still don't really understand what's happened, but now isn't the time for judgment or punishment. Whatever you did, both of you, I'm sure you were just doing what you thought was right. That's enough for me.
"Now, why are we here on the island?"
"The Dark One took control of you through your mother before she died," Drago said. "You were out of control. I managed to bring you here before you could do too much more harm."
"What do you mean by 'more harm'?"
Drago was hesitant for a moment, then said, "Aurelia, it wasn't your fault. It wasn't you who was doing it."
More forcefully, Aurelia asked, "What did I do? Who did I hurt?"
"I, I can't say. I was only thinking about getting you away from there. The Dark One was calling you to him. Even with your powers, it isn't so easy to get off this island. I was able to keep you here until his hold on you was broken."
"It is likely that many of those in the castle will not understand," Linhua said.
Her words filled Aurelia with foreboding. She was always told to keep her magic a secret, that it was dangerous for people to see what she was capable of. If that was true of even the simplest spells, how much more if she had lost control of her powers and wreaked havoc on the palace?
With this in mind, she asked the two of them, "So what do we do?"
"For now, we wait for His Majesty the King to return... if he returns," Linhua replied. "He will judge the situation aright and lay passions to rest."
"And if Father doesn't return?" Aurelia asked.
"Well, this really is a nice island," Drago said with a weak smile.