To Tame a Dragon - Tiffany Roberts Page 0,1

and returned her mother’s smile.

Telani dipped her fingers into the pool and brought them to Elliya’s belly. “Cetolea, bless this womb,” she said, drawing a line across Elliya’s abdomen. “May it nurture and protect the seed it shall receive, and may it grow strong new life in its loving embrace.”

Telani stepped back.

Elliya dropped her gaze to the glowing blue line on her belly, which was bold against her tan skin. Whatever her desires, she had to complete the ritual, she had to do her part. She moved her hand, meaning to rub the water into her skin and accept the blessing.

Before she could touch it, the water turned as red as freshly spilled blood.

She gasped, jerking her hand away as the crimson droplets ran down to her pelvis. Fear churned her belly, and cold tingles raced along her spine.

Did Cetolea know Elliya’s thoughts? Was Cetolea spurning her because of her secret desires, because of her selfishness?

Elliya returned her gaze to her mother, expecting disappointment or horror, but the high priestess’s eyes were turned away. Telani was staring at the sacred pool, which was glowing vibrant red rather than its usual ethereal blue.

The drums fell silent, and excited murmurs rippled through the crowd.

“Look! Look!” One of the huntresses pointed to the sky.

Elliya tilted her head back to look up, and her eyes widened.

The moon was stained crimson, and an unfamiliar star glimmered over the cliffs, brighter than all the other stars in the clear night sky—a red star.

The Red Star.

It was spoken of in legends that had been passed down through the generations, a sight that no living human had seen.

Elliya’s fear swiftly gave way to wonder and anticipation.

Telani turned toward Elliya, grasping the younger woman’s face between her hands, her smile even wider than before. “Do you know what this means, my daughter?”

It meant that Elliya had more time, that she had a chance at something greater. That maybe her destiny wasn’t quite so fixed as she had believed.

Elliya grinned. “The Crimson Hunt.”

Telani threw her hands in the air and spun to face Cetolea again. “The Crimson Hunt!”

The gathered huntresses—both those here for the choosing and those here as witnesses—sent excited howls up to the night sky. Their calls reverberated within the canyon, rising to a strength that could only be achieved by the tribe as a whole.

“The Red Star is upon us,” Telani shouted, silencing those howls. The loose white cloth she wore was stained pink by the tinted moonlight. “The Blood Moon glows over the desert. For the first time in a hundred years, the water of Cetolea runs red. We call upon our huntresses to assemble for the Crimson Hunt!”

The huntresses responded with another resounding cheer.

“What is this?” Dian demanded, calling Elliya’s attention toward the edge of the crowd.

The gathered women parted as Dian strode forward. His thick, dark eyebrows were low over his glaring eyes, and his lips seemed about to curl into a snarl. The red glow from Cetolea made the lush fabric of his robe—normally the same soft blue of the sky—look violet.

“Every hundred years, the Red Star appears in the sky,” Telani replied, voice smooth and confident. “And we must send our sisters on the Crimson Hunt.”

“This is the night of the Blooming,” Dian said. “The night of choosing, and I have not yet claimed what is due to me.”

“The choosing must wait. The Red Star has come as an omen, a sign that these huntresses”—Telani’s eyes flicked briefly but meaningfully toward Elliya—“have a chance to bring new prosperity and strength to our tribe. We cannot ignore it. Destiny demands they hunt. Cetolea and the Red Star demand it, and we must obey.”

“The Red Star is an ancient curse that brings prosperity to no one,” Dian said with a growl. “Ignoring our other traditions because of it will do us no good.”

“You know the legends, Dian. You know the traditions, as do we all. To ignore this sign is to deny our people hope.”

“Hope for what? Dragons?” Dian turned to face the others, throwing his arms out. “Who amongst us has seen a dragon? Who of your mothers, your grandmothers, has seen one? We cannot allow those stories to dictate our lives.”

“Nor can we allow spoiled males to do so,” Elliya said.

Dian spun toward her, eyes flaring in surprise before they narrowed. He jabbed a finger at her. “This is the night of my choice, and it is disrespectful for my intended bride to speak to me in such a manner.”

Elliya notched her