Inside the Sandcastle, the first book in Dragon Legacy trilogy, will be out next week! In honor of that, I’m sharing the first chapter below.
Naveen looked around his room. It seemed empty to him now, even with all the familiar furniture and the numerous pillows on his bed and on the armchair by the window. But there was almost no trace of his things. What had made this room truly his was now packed in three suitcases and countless boxes, ready to be moved out.
Since he was allowed to take no more than three suitcases to the Academy, he didn’t know why his father insisted that Naveen cleared out his room completely before leaving the royal palace. His older brother had been forced to do the same when he’d left for the Academy, and now, whenever Caleen would visit, he couldn’t even use his old things because they were packed away somewhere and he never stayed for long enough to justify pulling it all out of storage.
Like right now.
Caleen was coming to escort him to the Academy, as tradition dictated, but he only planned to stay at the palace for one night. Naveen had no idea why his brother was always in such a hurry to get back to school. It seemed like he only came to visit when it was required for him to be here.
Naveen wondered if it would be the same for him. Would he also prefer the Academy over his own home?
He had been dreaming about going to the Academy for years now, ever since he’d heard about a place where nobles from Teranea met and bonded dragons from Paryada as companions. The pairs learned to fight together, to share thoughts and emotions, to become more than just a sum of their individual parts. They also belonged to each other for life, which interested Naveen the most, even if he knew better than to say it out loud, in fear that it might be misinterpreted.
Or interpreted just right, which he feared even more as he grew older.
Would he find what he was hoping for in the Academy, though? Would he find his place there, just like his big brother had?
He walked up to the window and stared at the neatly raked palace grounds he was so used to seeing, the rows of sand in the royal colors of red and black interrupted by small trees at even intervals. There was something soothing in that sight as he traced clear-cut lines with his gaze—something he would sorely miss when he left.
At least this would be here whenever Naveen got back. His things might have all been packed, but nobody could put this view away. The next time he was here, he’d be able to count the rows and the trees or know right away which of the ground keepers tended to them last.
Four knocks on the door pulled him back to the present.
“Come in,” he said and turned just in time to see Caleen enter.
Naveen rushed towards him and sank into his brother’s embrace, closing his eyes.
His shoulders relaxed. Life had always been easier with his brother by his side.
They’d been close as kids, but the distance and nearly four years spent apart had distorted that. Once they were in each other’s company, they fell back into the familiar closeness, but in between Caleen’s visits, there was little contact between them as neither was partial to writing letters.
At least at the Academy they were going to be together again for a while.
Now, Naveen hugged his brother hard until Caleen pulled back with a chuckle, ruffling Naveen’s hair.
“I thought I told you to stop growing.”
“Not my fault you’re just short,” Naveen tossed back. It wasn’t quite true—Caleen was an average height among the Teraneans. Naveen was not. “They didn’t announce you. When did you arrive?”
“Just now. Mother sent an entrance notice to the gate guards, so I was free to skip the formalities there.”
“And where’s Taveris?”
Caleen’s dragon companion was hard to miss, towering over everyone at court, even other dragons. He was also adamant not to leave Caleen’s sight if possible, so Naveen was surprised he wasn’t at his side.
“Just outside the door. We are learning the art of not being overbearing,” Caleen said, rolling his eyes, before speaking louder. “And that includes not using our hearing abilities to eavesdrop on a brotherly conversation.”
Naveen laughed and glanced at the door, but nothing happened.
“I see you’re making progress,” he teased, pulling his brother to sit with him on the bed. “Come on, talk to me. How are the trials going?”
The last portion of the Academy training included several trials for both companions to determine whether their bond and their individual skills were ready for the maturing of their relationship and graduating or not.
“They’re going well. Joking aside, we are still in need of training in certain areas, but we’re hoping we’ll be done after the wind season passes.”
Only a few moons more, then. It looked like Naveen wasn’t going to get much more time with Caleen, after all.
“And do you know what you’re going to do next?” he asked, trying to ignore his disappointment.
Caleen had been looking around the room, but at that, he turned back to Naveen.
“I have some ideas. It depends on a lot of things, though, so it’s too early to talk about it.” He paused, tilting his head. “For now, at least.”
“Father is going to expect—”
“I know what the King expects,” Caleen cut in. “But let’s focus on you now. How are you doing, are you done packing yet?” he asked, pointing his chin towards the wall Naveen’s things were lined up against.
“I am. Although I have to tell you, that limit to three suitcases is lizard’s ass. There’s nothing but bare necessities in there.”
Caleen nudged him with his shoulder. “First of all, language. Second, three suitcases are more than enough, you will see. Half the things you think you need, you won’t. And half of the rest won’t fit into your room anyway. Trust me, it’s better to pack smart now than having to repack or throw away stuff in the Academy’s front hall.”
“So what you’re saying is that I shouldn’t follow your example on this?” Naveen asked, trying not to smile.
Caleen gave him an innocent look on his face Naveen had stopped believing in when he was around eight. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sure you don’t.”
“Honestly, though. How are you doing?” Caleen bumped his shoulder against Naveen’s again. “I remember how it is, you know.”
“And how was it for you?” Naveen’s head was a mess, but he didn’t want to admit it to his brother. Caleen had seemed nothing but excited to go to the Academy when it had been his turn and he always looked happy to return there. Naveen didn’t want to appear a coward.
And it wasn’t like he didn’t want to go to the Academy. He did. He was just… He had reservations.
“Well, I was excited, of course, but I was also terrified,” Caleen said, as if it was nothing.
Naveen’s surprise had to show on his face, because his brother shrugged.
“You are leaving your whole life behind to go to a place you have been hearing about for years and possibly dreaming about for years, too. You have heard about the hard training, you have heard about the sacred companion bond to make us the best we could possibly be,” he said, voice serious and measured. “And you are afraid you will not measure up, or that you will be the first human in history they won’t find a companion for, or… Or that you will miss home too much.” He tilted his head to the side. “Sounds familiar?”
Yes, Naveen wanted to tell him. Yes. All of it, and more.
But he just shrugged instead.
Caleen put a hand on the top of his head. “You will do well,” he said, and with his touch and the certainty in his voice, Naveen felt his body relax. “You will be challenged like never before, but what you gain—” Caleen shook his head. “There’s nothing like it.”
Naveen watched his brother glance towards the door. It wasn’t hard to guess what he was thinking about—or rather who.
Caleen had never doubted he made the right choice and assured Naveen he would know as well, but it was hard not to wonder. Not to worry.
“It will work out,” Caleen said as if he was reading his mind. “And I will be right there with you, so don’t worry about a thing. No matter what,” he added, “I’m never not on your side.”
Naveen tensed. What did that mean? Was Caleen worried that Naveen would embarrass him over there? Or maybe… Maybe he knew? Maybe Caleen had somehow figured out that as much as Naveen was afraid of not finding a companion, he was also afraid of—
Before Naveen could spiral further down that road, there was a knock on the door. Both he and Caleen stood up.
“Come in,” Naveen spoke up after clearing his throat. His heart was still going too fast, but he ignored it.
Moir, the head messenger of the palace, appeared in the doorway, with Taveris visible behind him. Caleen’s companion positioned himself by the wall on the opposite side of the corridor, blue robes making him stand out the same way his height and pale hair and skin did among most of the residence of the palace.
“The King and the Queen are in the meeting room now,” Moir announced. “Prince Heir, Prince Naveen, you are both requested there.”
For a moment, there was something odd on Caleen’s face, but it went away too quickly for Naveen to read.
He knew Caleen didn’t have the easiest relationship with their father—to put it mildly. While Naveen had never been one for confrontations, his big brother had had a few fights with their father over the recent years, none of which Naveen had been privy to. He’d tried to ask, afterward, but Caleen had always waved it off as nothing to worry about.
Maybe at the Academy, far away from home, they would be able to talk about things they couldn’t here.
Wind only knew Naveen had things to say.
“Thank you, Moir,” Caleen said to the messenger before turning to Naveen. “Let’s go.”
As they left the room and Taveris fell into step on Caleen’s other side, Moir paused.
“Since the meeting is a small family gathering, the companion’s presence is not required. You could—”
“Taveris’s presence is required by me,” Caleen cut in and he used his future-king-voice, one that expected full compliance. He had never used it on Naveen, but Naveen had witnessed it a few times in the past. No one had dared to defy the heir to the throne.
Moir nodded once. “Of course, Prince Heir.”
As they continued towards the meeting room on the ground floor of the palace, Naveen noticed Taveris brushing his hand over Caleen’s shoulder blades.
Over the bonding mark, most likely.
Longing swept over Naveen at the sight, leaving a hollow shell behind. He wanted something like this, he wanted it so much, but… Could it truly be everything he wished for it to be?
He’d heard whispers about the bonds that weren’t platonic but romantic. Sexual.
Would he be lucky enough to get one just like that?
Yet another question Naveen had no time to dwell on now, so he focused back on the present. They were almost there, and Caleen and Taveris were no longer touching. The silence seemed loud in the wide corridor, with the distant noises of the palace barely audible.
After they were announced to the royal couple, they walked in to the meeting room. Naveen was no longer surprised their parents didn’t choose the smaller, private one, since they hadn’t used that one for Caleen’s visits in quite a while.
For what felt like the millionth time in his life, Naveen was glad not to be the first in line to the throne.
Taveris stayed back, picking his place near the guards as soon as they entered. The king and the queen were sitting in their official seats, but as soon as the door was closed, the queen rushed towards them, not caring for protocol, and Caleen opened his arms for her. Naveen smiled as he watched them embrace. Heir or not, every son deserved his mother’s hug.
Naveen glanced at his father, and he was struck, once again, by the difference between his parents. The king remained on his throne, face unreadable as he watched the family reunion, seemingly not interested at all.
“It’s so good to see you,” Naveen heard his mother say. When he looked at her, she had her hands on the sides of Caleen’s face and smiled up at him as Caleen offered her a soft smile of his own.
“It’s good to see you, too, Mother.”
When they pulled back from each other a moment later, Caleen turned to their father, and as he did so, his whole demeanor changed. His face was blank now, his back ramrod straight, and his voice lacked the same warmth he’d just offered their mother.
“My King,” he said with a nod. “Father.”
“I welcome you, Prince Heir, as you are here to take part in the Passage.”
“I am honored to travel the path with the next man in our royal line,” Caleen recited his part of the traditional exchange. “I vow to ensure his safe passage from the door of the palace to the gates of the Academy, through the sand and the wind, and whatever our destiny will put in our way.”
The king turned to Naveen.
“Once you leave here a boy at tomorrow’s dawn, you will return a man with the mark of a warrior and a spirit to match it. You will return stronger than you think, and doubly strong by the companion at your side. I await meeting the man you will become.”
The last sentence made Naveen’s breath catch, even if he knew it was a part of the ritual—the words written hundreds of years ago and repeated over and over throughout the years and throughout the kingdom. But in that moment, they were words spoken to him by his father, his king, and Naveen wished with all his might that the man he was going to become would be a man his father would be truly glad to meet.
“I look forward to the passage and the journey I undertake,” Naveen said, hoping his voice came out stronger than he felt. “I vow to become the best warrior I can be and the best man I can strive to be. That is my oath to you.”
That was the end of the traditional exchange, but then his mother, who stood to the side as they recited their parts, came up to him and put her hands on his cheeks just like she had done it with Caleen earlier.
Her touch was comforting and welcomed, as always. He was going to miss it.
“Remember that I will always be there for you when you need me. Distance will not change that, as the winds will always lead me to you.”
Naveen nodded and closed his eyes, overwhelmed, and when she pulled him into her arms, he happily accepted.
With the turmoil of emotions raging through him, he was eager to go back to his room, though, to have some time alone before the farewell dinner.
To his relief, once his mother returned to her throne, the king announced they were excused.
He was about to turn towards the door, when Caleen spoke up by his side.
“If I may ask for a few minutes of your time, my King, my Queen. There is something I wish to discuss with you before we part. Alone,” he added, briefly touching Naveen’s elbow without turning his gaze away from the king.
It sounded innocent enough, but Naveen still tensed under his brother’s touch. It was the first time in his life that Caleen purposefully excluded him from something, and it rattled him. He might’ve imagined their parents tensing as well, but he didn’t miss the way their mother’s smile vanished from her face.
“Your wish is granted, Prince Heir,” the king said, and nodded towards Naveen. “Join your brother’s companion outside, Son.”
Naveen wondered for a moment if Caleen would dare to protest, but his brother stayed silent. Although, since he’d specified his wish to talk alone, maybe he didn’t mind it, after all. Naveen caught the look Caleen sent Taveris, but there was nothing but quiet determination in his gaze.
Surprisingly, it was Taveris who seemed perturbed once the two of them left the room. He stood there, staring at the closed door with a frown on his face. That, if nothing else, made Caleen forget his own issue with being left out.
“Is everything all right?” he asked in a whisper, after glancing around to make sure no one would overhear them.
Taveris looked at him briefly before turning to stare at the door.
“It depends on how this conversation goes,” he said. “But regardless, your brother will explain everything to you soon. He just needed to do this first.”
Naveen looked at the closed door as well. He wished he could ask Taveris to use his senses and eavesdrop, but the walls around this particular room were too thick. No one could hear anything that happened inside.
All they could do was wait.