“Rolf?” Valeriah pronounced his name carefully, even though it didn’t have any of the soft ess sounds that were so difficult for a dragon’s tongue and throat to produce without hissing.
“Hmm?” Rolf answered, opening one eye. He lay stretched out on the beach, dozing and digesting the cow they’d shared for lunch.
“How long iss thiss going to take?” Damn, those esses were hard.
“Which this is that, sweetheart?”
Show off. He didn’t have any trouble with his esses. Then again, he’d been a dragon from birth. He’d had a lot more time to practice. “Learning to be a dragon.”
Rolf stretched out his huge golden wing to embrace her and reached out with his long neck to rub his chin along her back.
Signs he knew she wasn’t going to like the answer. She felt herself tensing, subconsciously balancing her weight in preparation for a fight. As if she could fight a kitten, clumsy as she was in this unfamiliar body. That was another source of frustration. She’d been athletic in her human form. Not anymore.
“Most dragons take about ten years to master a new form,” Rolf said.
“Ten yearss!” She jerked upright, half unfolding her wings in outrage, and clunked Rolf’s jaw with the top of her head. It likely didn’t seem that long to him. Rolf was two-hundred-and-fifty years old, give or take. Valeriah would be twenty-six next month and ten years seemed like an impossibly long time to her.
Rolf pulled his head back but continued to rub his wingtip along the edge of her wings. “It’s not just learning to fly and speak Draconic. You’ll have to learn dragon magic. And, because you’re a red dragon, you’ll have to learn to breathe fire, too. That’s one I can’t teach you. Golds don’t breathe fire.”
“Ten yearsss!” By dragon law, now that she’d taken it, she had to keep dragon form until she mastered it. The reasoning was sound. Valeriah knew perfectly well if she was permitted to go back to her human form to have a conversation, she’d never learn Draconic. It’d be too much easier to speak her native language. Hells, at the beginning, she’d have changed back just to walk across the room. Suddenly having to remember to move four feet in the proper order hadn’t been as easy as it sounded. It had thrown her balance completely off. She still wasn’t exactly graceful on the ground. She was a little better in the air, but only because Rolf drilled her mercilessly.
Rolf ducked his head. “Maybe I can persuade Mother to give you a break on the dragon magic. You can learn and use that just as well in either form. And, since you’re part human anyway, you won’t need the magic to mask your appearance among humans. It’s not like you’ll have slit-pupiled eyes or scales.”
If she’d known that it would take ten years when he’d goaded her into taking dragon form, would she have done it? Rolf had been so excited at the prospect she probably would have. Besides, it really wouldn’t have been very diplomatic to refuse his mother’s wedding gift to them. Giving a half-werewolf the ability to take dragon form was no small gift. Normally, diplomacy was not Valeriah’s strong suit. She was much too blunt for that. Still when your mother-in-law is the Matriarch of the gold dragons, arguably the rightful ruler of all Chimeria, a little tact is probably called for.
The trouble was, at least so far, Valeriah didn’t really much like being a dragon. Flying was nice, at least when Rolf wasn’t drilling her in aerobatics. But there were days when she wanted to weep with frustration at just not being able to communicate clearly. She might have, if only dragons could cry. The Common Speech was incredibly difficult to pronounce with a dragon’s snout, forked tongue, and long throat. And Draconic was a completely foreign language she was only beginning to learn.
“You’ll learn quickly, Vallie,” Rolf said soothingly. “Maybe it won’t take you that long. Look at Drake. He hasn’t been a dragon much longer than you and he can speak perfect Draconic.”
“Drake understood Draconic already. He grew up hearing it. He just couldn’t speak it until he took dragon form.” She spoke slowly in Draconic, only substituting a few words of Common Speech when her limited Draconic vocabulary failed her.
Rolf cocked his head to the side. “That’s true. But you’re learning to fly much faster than he is.”
Valeriah snorted at that–a very impressive sound from a dragon’s lungs and snout. It communicated her thoughts on that just fine without any language problems. Nobody had been pushing Drake to fly the way Rolf pushed her.
Rolf tried to look contrite, not a very convincing look for a dragon. “Is it so very bad?”
Was it? It was more than just the speech, as if that wasn’t bad enough. Even Rolf hadn’t anticipated the dietary problems. That shouldn’t be an issue right now, near the full moon. Both her new dragon nature and her werewolf half craved meat and lots of it.
But becoming a dragon hadn’t changed her essential nature, only added to it. The trace of unicorn blood she’d inherited from her grandmother Elsibel still compelled her to a vegetarian diet at the new moon. Dragons just weren’t meant to be vegetarians. Their teeth were all wrong and the diet gave her horrible indigestion at every new moon, until the moon waxed and she could handle at least fish and poultry. One more complication. As if her life hadn’t had enough already. Matter of fact, the heartburn still hadn’t gotten better. If anything, it was worse.
“Indigesstion,” she said in the Common Speech, not wanting to make the effort to form a complete sentence.
“Still?” The spiny crest on his head stood up as his eyes widened in surprise, making him look like a startled iguana. “I thought that would get better when you could switch to meat again.”
Valeriah shook her head. “Comess and goess.” She didn’t even try to keep the hiss out of the sibilants.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. Nobody could have predicted that. I’m sure your body will adjust before long.”
Valeriah snorted again and laid her head back down on the sand.