The Keeper and the Dragons - Cover

The Keeper and the Dragons

Copyright© 2023 by Charly Young

Chapter 8

Emory, WA

The next morning, Quinn dropped the girls off at their school and drove to Althea’s. He needed to ask Althea for help. Security had to be set up for the girls while he was in Oldtown. He ground his teeth at the thought of being indebted to this witch, but he had no choice.

Althea lived in a big Victorian house overlooking the Stillaguamish River. The property was more an estate than a house, with over a half mile of ornate wrought-iron fence enclosing a garden and orchard.

The grounds brought back memories. He’d worked there during the summer of his fifteenth year. It had been a memorable summer, in turns exciting and exasperating. That was the summer Althea began training the four sisters in first circle spell-craft. They had tried to practice their new spells on him, but by then, he had his glyphs, so their efforts had no effect. Drove them crazy trying to figure out why. His smug superiority didn’t last long, however. They took revenge by flirting one moment and loftily ignoring him the next. They treated him like he was dirt beneath their feet. That was also the summer he got his first kisses, in turns from Mandy, then when she lost interest from Katie and Niamh as well when she was fostering with Anna the Hedge Witch. By summer’s end, Katie, Mandy and Niamh had twisted him into so many knots that he hardly knew which way was up.

Two big-eyed teenage apprentice guardians answered the door and nervously ushered him through the house. The shortest smiled at him and bobbed her head.

“Miss Lark, is that you?”

“Yes, Master Lan,” the blond-haired girl said shyly.

“Miss Lark, remember the rule,” Quinn said with a gentle smile. “I’m no one’s master. Call me Lan. Are you doing well? Are you happy here?”

Lark looked nothing like the pinch-faced pre-adolescent slave girl who had propositioned him outside an Oldtown tavern two years ago. Quinn had removed her slave torc and escorted her out of Oldtown and up to Althea.

“Oh, yes,” she said with a huge smile. “It is wonderful here. No one goes hungry, and there are no beatings. I go to school and everything.”

“That’s fantastic, Miss Lark. I am glad you’re settling in.” Quinn said gruffly. The worship shining out of the girl’s eyes made him acutely uncomfortable.

The two escorted him to the back of the house. Lark darted off to announce him, returned and opened a door with a formal smile.

“Thank you for the escort, ladies,” Quinn bowed to them both in turn and grinned when they blushed. He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and strode through the back door and onto the big sun porch.

Quinn hadn’t seen Althea in ten years. He was shocked at how much she’d aged. He noticed with surprise that she sat in a white oak rocking chair that was one of his youthful creations. She was still enormously powerful. Not a single hint of her magic leaked from her impeccable shields.

The glassed-in porch overlooked a huge English Garden filled with a riot of perennials. Quinn smiled, remembering the gardener, Mr. Tanaka, patiently showing him the proper way to prune the apple trees that bordered the estate. The man was a genius landscape crafter. Brilliant in other ways as well, he was the man his foster father had picked to teach him the disciplined mindset of the stoics. Fifteen-year-old Quinn picked up the pruning dos and don’ts much more easily than he learned about forbearance and detachment.

Quinn ruefully thought that old Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts on anger would be useful in the next sixty minutes.

Quinn caught a hint of sandalwood scented magic.

Oh, hell no. F•©k me.

Katherine Keenan and Niamh Harpe sat off to the left. They nodded a silent greeting. Katie wore a silky-looking blouse that matched her sea-glass green eyes and skintight blue jeans tucked into some fancy cowboy boots. She had her rich rancher’s trophy wife persona look down pat—except that the inflexible power of her gaze showed she was nobody’s arm candy.

Niamh, on the other hand, had her blond hair in a ponytail and was dressed like a biker in black leathers and a sleeveless blue lacy top with knee-high black boots. No doubt steel toed. Niamh might look like a biker’s bitch, but pity the poor bastard who treated her like one.

Neither one of them was anybody to mess with unless you had a death wish. For the past three months, he avoided dealing with either of them. Quinn’s eyes widened at his next thought—must be some serious shit going on if Katie and Niamh were partnering. The Kin and the Covens didn’t do cooperation.

Birdie Penrose sat perched on the edge of a chair on Althea’s right. Birdie was a forty something, skinny-slender with big wire-rim glasses perched on a beak of a nose. At first glance, she appeared vague and disinterested. That is until you looked closer. Her blue-gray eyes were piercing, sharp with intelligence. Birdie was the Queen of the McNeil Coven.

“Mistress,” Quinn nodded politely to Althea, “I’m glad to see you’ve recovered.”

The witch gestured to a white wicker patio chair. “Sit down, boy, and bide awhile. I recall you used to like my lemonade. There is a carafe on the sideboard. Pour yourself a glass. I’d serve you, but since the attack, I can’t get around all that well.”

Althea had been laid low by a renegade blood witch a couple of months ago and was still recovering.

Quinn quietly did as she requested. After he had poured a glass, he sat and took a sip. It tasted like he remembered: deliciously sweet-tart. He leaned back and regarded her. His mind went back to the last time they’d met.

ten years ago

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