Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian

Prologue


“A thousand thousand years ago—” Will said.

“Just say a million,” Martin said. “Why do you need to make it sound so fussy?”

Will glared at him. It was high summer and his face was more freckle than not-freckle, his hair hadn’t been trimmed since term ended, and Martin was frankly having a hard time taking him seriously.

“I’m telling you a story,” Will said, with more sniffy impatience than any thirteen-year-old had a right to. “You can do your boring maths lesson later. A thousand thousand years ago,” he said pointedly, “dragons swooped and dove through this very valley. The hills were sharper then, more like mountains, like teeth and claws sticking out of the earth. And where today we see lakes, back then were only the bones of the animals the dragons feasted upon.”

“That seems exceedingly unlik—”

“Hush. In fact, it was getting to be a problem. There were very few small animals left for the dragons to eat. Those who could leave had long since fled, and those who could not had been eaten. The dragon council convened, and for five days and five nights they deliberated.”

This, Martin suspected, was a metaphor, and not a subtle one at that. Will’s parents and whatever other grown-ups were living (Living in Sin, according to Father) at the Grange had run out of money again. They certainly ought to be sitting up at night, figuring out what to do about things. Otherwise they weren’t going to be able to afford Will’s school fees. The last time this happened, Father paid a few of the Sedgwicks’ bills and he had been none too pleased about it. Martin got the distinct feeling that most of the Sedgwicks weren’t very pleased about it either, but he couldn’t quite figure out why.

“For many years,” Will went on, in his most pretentious storyteller voice, “these hills have been our home.” Martin realized that now Will was voicing the verdict of the Dragon Tribunal or whatever he was on about. “But now we will need to seek a home elsewhere.”

Martin didn’t like the direction this story was heading, so he ignored it for a bit. If he lay back against the grass, he could drift a little. Climbing to the top of the tor had left him winded and sleepy, and maybe if he shut his eyes he could pretend he was just bored with Will’s story rather than bone tired. Will worried too much. So did Father, in his way. He would be excessively cross when he discovered that Martin had once again slipped out past his tutor and the woman whose entire purpose in life was to chase him around with vials of revolting tinctures (he refused to call her his nurse—he was not a baby and he wasn’t sick, even though his lungs didn’t always work right and never would because he was Delicate).

“Then, from deep beneath the ground, so deep it was more a vibration than a noise, the dragons heard a shout.”

Martin opened an eye. He had expected this story to end with the dragons finding a new home and the Old Ways being lost. Mysterious shouts were new. “What was the voice shouting?” he asked.

“They couldn’t tell, that’s how eerie and ominous the sound was. It was just—” He got to his feet and stomped his booted foot next to Martin’s head. Now Martin opened both eyes and looked up at his friend. Will’s face, usually distracted and slightly ridiculous, was—angry?

“Will?” Martin sat up too quickly, and was punished with a coughing fit. Will was on his knees beside him in an instant, a hand in the middle of Martin’s back, just resting there.

“I’m fine. Hay fever,” he lied. “What happens next?”

“I suppose we’ll bring you home for a dose of—”

“In the story, you pillock.” He had learned that word from Will and felt very worldly using it.

“Oh. Well, deep from within the ground, the sound came closer. Slowly, slowly, the vibrations began to shake the dragons, from the feet up. And the noise became louder and louder so the dragons let loose with their own fearsome shrieks just to drown it out. And then one of the dragons, one of the smaller dragons who wasn’t supposed to be there, noticed that the ground was getting hotter. He tried to tell the elder dragons, but they were too busy throwing tantrums to hear him. It got so hot, the small dragon’s feet began to hurt, so he perched on the branches of a nearby rowan tree. Still, the ground got hotter and hotter, so hot the adult dragons started to catch fire.”

“I thought dragons breathed fire. Shouldn’t they be fireproof?” Honestly, Martin expected better from Will’s stories.