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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Proper Introduction to Dragons… part 1 | excerpt from Maria Grace!

I have a special treat for you this year! As a lead-up to the release of Maria Grace’s A Proper Introduction to Dragons (a prequel to her Jane Austen’s Dragons series, which I’ve loved and reviewed here, here and (soon to be) here), Maria is sharing a series of excerpts with us every week! So right here, every Tuesday morning, you can pour yourself a cuppa tea and continue the story, as well as entering to win one of two copies of the book!
And now, without further ado, let’s get into our first sneak peek at A Proper Introduction to Dragons!

Excerpt 1; A Proper Introduction to Dragons by Maria Grace

Maria Grace, Jane Austen's Dragons, Jane Austen, JAFF, Austenesque, excerpt, giveawayApril 1801
The front door creaked open.

“Jane! Lizzy!” Mama shrieked, her skirts swishing and shoes scuffing as she walked. At least it was a happy sounding shriek, not the one she used when she was displeased.

Elizabeth looked up from her sewing just as Mama appeared in the parlor doorway. Perhaps it was just as well. The seam on Papa’s shirt was nearly mended, and she rather dreaded the fancy work that Mama would have her do next.

From the look of the packages Mama carried, she had been to Meryton this morning Odd, it was not the usual day for her to go. Unexpected shopping trips often made Papa unhappy. Hopefully this one would not leave him too discomposed.

Jane set aside her sewing and rose as Mama trundled toward them, muttering under her breath about the sun in the room. By late afternoon, the parlor tended to become uncomfortably hot, but near midday, as it was now, it managed to be quite comfortable. Some might consider the room a bit shabby, with sun-faded furniture and carpeting that had seen several generations of Bennets’ footfalls. Elizabeth found it welcoming and cozy with large white peonies on the paper hangings and happy yellow curtains that fluttered in the light breeze. She stabbed her needle into the seam she was stitching and stood.

“Was your trip this morning pleasant?” Jane’s voice and expression were so sweet it would be easy to think her disingenuous.

But no, if there was a single word to describe her eldest sister, it was sweet. Unfortunately, it proved a mixed blessing at best. On the one hand, it was a very pleasant thing to have a sister who was so kind, but on the other, it made comparisons awfully difficult. Mama was very apt to draw them between her two oldest daughters.

Mama dropped down on her favorite chair and plopped a package wrapped in brown paper on the nearby table. She dabbed her forehead with her handkerchief as she caught her breath. “Come, come, girls. I have something special that I want you to see.”

It was some consolation that the package was the wrong size and shape to be yet another bundle of ribbons and lace. While those things were often pretty, they were hardly worth such a fuss.

Mama untied the package as Jane and Elizabeth drew straight-backed wooden chairs near the table.
“I ordered these for you last month, and they have finally arrived.” The brown paper fell away to reveal two books, one bound in green and the other red, each about an inch thick, with nothing on the cover or binding to reveal what was within.

Mama had bought them books? Why? She felt reading was hardly a good investment of a young woman’s time.

Mama handed the green one to Jane and the red to Elizabeth. “You have both been working very hard on your writing. Jane, your hand is quite lovely now. Lizzy … ah, yours has definitely improved.”

“Thank you, Mama,” she muttered under her breath. It was true that Jane’s penmanship was beautiful and that hers would never match that standard. That still did not make it pleasing to hear it voiced.  It was not as if Elizabeth’s was difficult to read. She just did not favor the romantical curls and flourishes that found their way onto Jane’s pages, but Mama thought those elegant and therefore better.

“You both are big enough now that you ought to begin keeping your own commonplace books.” Mama clasped her hands before her chest and beamed.

Jane smiled as well, but was it because she should or because she was genuinely pleased? One could never be quite sure.

“I have kept one since I was your age. By now of course, I have a number of volumes. They have been ever so helpful to me. One can never seem to remember just the right turn of a phrase for a letter or recall which book she read it in when she needs it. But, if it is in your commonplace book, then you will always know where to look.  The same is true for bits of wisdom you read or hear, a special receipt you might be given. I even wrote the instructions to make the breeches ball that finally cleaned those odd stains off your father’s buckskin breeches. Sister Phillips sketches in hers at times to remember room designs or garden plans. You can place any number of important things you might want to remember there.”

Jane ran her fingers across the edge of the pages. “It is very lovely, Mama. Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you.” Elizabeth clasped the book to her chest. “I am most excited to begin! I can think of a number of things I have recently read that I would very much like to write down.”

“Excellent, I am very glad to hear that. It will be lovely for you to have a reason to practice your writing without being reminded to do so.” Mama smiled as though that were a genuine compliment. Perhaps she thought it was.

But it did not really feel like one.

“That is all well and good.” Papa shuffled into the room, slightly bent over, his feet dragging just the barest bit over the carpet.

  Earlier this morning, he had been complaining about his joints aching and demanded a cup of willow bark tea from Mrs. Hill. He had been doing so more often recently, three mornings during the last week. Had Mama noticed?

“Mr. Bennet! See what I have bought for the girls.”

Papa took the book from Elizabeth’s hands and riffled through the blank pages. “Very good, very good. See that you write sensible things in there, Lizzy.” He raised his bushy eyebrows at her, a peculiar look in his eye.

Elizabeth blinked several times and pressed her fingertips to her lips. Well, that was not among the things Mama listed as appropriate for a commonplace book, but certainly, if she was to remember important things, then the things she studied with Papa should definitely be written there.

“Lizzy will need to come back to this later. For now, I need her to accompany me.” He handed Elizabeth a small notebook and pencil. “I need her to write notes for me as I examine some of the land.”

Mama harrumphed. “I suppose she may go, but it is all so very peculiar. Why should she be writing for you? Since you insist you cannot do it yourself, you ought to have a secretary.”

“And yet you insist on the need for lace and new gowns. Which would you prefer to have?” His eyes narrowed and tightened at the edges, lips pressed hard together.

“Such a curmudgeon. Go with your father, now, but do not forget to make your hand neat and proper as you write for him.” Mama waved them out of the room.

Mrs. Hill handed Elizabeth her bonnet as they headed for the front door. Papa said nothing, his jaw tense and teeth clenched tight. That he was quiet was hardly unusual. Mama did most of the talking for them both. But it was difficult being reminded that writing hurt his hands, something Mama did not appear to grasp.

A soft, warm breeze greeted them as they left the house, tickling her cheeks as it passed.  What a perfect April day, warm enough that one did not need a spencer but cool enough that one did not find herself in a continual state of inelegance, as Mama was wont to refer to it.

Papa remained silent as they followed the path through the gardens and into the woods.

“Where are we going? I thought you said we were going to check on the fields,” she asked softly, so he could ignore the question easily if it irritated him.

“I implied it, but never actually said so. I wish to take you to a place you have never been before. One that is at the heart and soul of this estate.” His lips turned up at the corners, just a mite, but it was enough to break her tension.

“Do you mean—”

“Yes, I want to show you where Longbourn lives.”

“Will I get to meet him?” She clutched her hands into fists to contain the glee that threatened to burst forth.

“No, not yet. You are not ready. But this is the first step in preparing you to meet him.”

She swallowed back a huff. It would not do to be too open about her disappointment.  “I do not understand. For what must I prepare? I know what he is. I have seen drawings of his kind. I have read all the descriptions. What more must I do?”

His forehead creased just a bit. “My dear, it sounds so much simpler in the lore than it is in real life. I have met grown men who fainted dead away the first time they were introduced to a major dragon.”

Was he laughing at her? Elizabeth harrumphed. “But I will not do such a thing. You said it was quite remarkable that I could meet Rustle when I was only four years old and think nothing of it.”

“Rustle is a cockatrice and not a particularly impressive one at that.” Papa scratched the back of his head. Though he was friendly with Rustle, he never had been especially impressed. “He has been a faithful friend of the Gardiner family for almost fifty years now and is most sympathetic to the concerns of the family.”

“Since Rustle is a friendly dragon, my meeting him—”

“Was important and remarkable to be certain, but it is not the same as a major dragon. You must trust that I know what I am doing. I am taking you to his lair today so you might see how large a creature he actually is, and that you might become accustomed to the peculiar odor dragons have.”

“The dragon musk the lore talks about?”

“Some find it quite offensive.” Papa rolled his eyes.

“I am sure I will not.” She crossed her arms over her chest and straightened her back. She would not be persuaded otherwise.

“Of course, child, of course.” Papa may as well have patted her on the head, considering the tone he used. “Now remember, if Mama or your sisters ask, we have been to the fields that flood in the spring. You cannot talk about this jaunt with any of them.”

It was rather fun to have a special secret to share with Papa, but sometimes it was so hard not to talk about something so wonderful with someone else. Especially Jane.

The woods became darker, filled with old hardwoods, their branches arching overhead like a sort of woven roof over the pathway.

“These are the sort of woods that dragons like. Many old shady trees with limestone underground—it is called a karst terrain—that makes many caves and crannies for them to use. And see there,” he pointed toward a clearing, “look closely, and you will see the entrance to Longbourn’s lair.
Elizabeth crouched and peered at the hillside at the far edge of the clearing. Hanging branches obscured the opening, but when she stared at it, she could just make it out. It was a little taller than the cellar ceilings, which she was told were tall compared to other houses, and about half again as wide. If Longbourn did not duck to go inside, he could not be more than fifteen feet tall. For a dragon, that was not so very big.

“Impressive, no?” Papa nudged her with his elbow.

She chewed her knuckle. “I suppose. It is not as large as I had thought. Must he fold his wings to enter, or is it large enough to accommodate his wingspan?”

He seemed a little disappointed at her question. Perhaps he had expected a greater level of awe in her reactions. “Wyverns generally do not walk about with their wings spread. They only do so when agitated or ready to fly.”

An odd earthy, musky scent wafted toward them on the breeze. Dragon musk. Rich and loamy with just a hint of ammonia and rot. She wrinkled her nose just a mite. It was not so much unpleasant as it was unfamiliar.

He waved her up to stand. “Come along, that is enough for now. You have seen where he lives and can recognize his scent. That is good. What do you think?”

Entirely anticlimactic was not the answer he was probably looking for.

“Since your mother has given you that book to write in, I think it would be good for you to write what you have seen today and your impressions of it. It seems a thing worth remembering.” Papa put his hands on his hips and arched back just a bit. Walking even short distances was becoming more difficult.

“But will Mama not want to look at what I have written in my book? You have said many times that she cannot hear dragons so I must never speak to her about them.”

“Ah well, I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that your mother is most unlikely to give much thought to your book again now that she has given it to you. It is not in her nature to follow up on things. Once they are begun, they are generally forgotten. In the odd case that she thinks to ask, I trust you will be able to readily distract her from it.” He shrugged. “Hurry up now. Since we are all the way out here, there is something else I should show you.”

They walked a little farther to the place where the woods bordered the fields.

“There is a harem of fairy dragons that live in these woods.” He pointed up into the trees. “They prefer the sunnier parts of the woods, nesting high in these trees. It is a little late in the day now to hear them, but if you come out earlier and listen carefully, you may be able to hear them, possibly even see some of them. Be careful though, as their songs are very soothing and can even make you sleep.”

Elizabeth giggled. It seemed a fitting means for the tiniest of dragon species to protect themselves.
“And there,” Papa pointed to an odd creature jumping after something in the fields, “that is a tatzelwurm.”

She clapped her hands over her mouth to contain a squeal. She would get to see a dragon today after all!

“He is an old tatzelwurm called Rumblkins. He was hatched in the barn and has imprinted upon men, but does not choose to keep their company. Like his kind, he is a bit grumpy and unsociable.”

She crouched, hands on her knees, to get a better look. “From the front he looks like a very large tabby cat.”

“Indeed he does. His front feet look like cat paws as well, but they have thumb-toes that set them apart from actual cats. That is how you can always tell a tatzelwurm.”

  “Does not their back half look like a snake?" 

“It does if you have not been persuaded away from seeing it. They are some of the most persuasive of dragons. That is why they are often seen living among people, passing themselves off as cats. Most of the best ratters and mousers are actually tatzelwurms.”

She snickered. The idea of people welcoming dragons into their houses unbeknownst was rather charming.

“Look at the way they move—see how he coils his tail and springs forward, a spring-hop as it were. Some say it addles their brains and makes them all very stupid.”

“What an unkind thing to say!”

“You may find it very accurate when you finally get to know one.”

“When might that be, Papa?”

He sighed, rubbing the back of his hand along his jaw. “I cannot tell you. Tatzelwurms are known for keeping to themselves. But if he should strike up a conversation with you whilst you are out walking, I give you permission to speak with him.”

She clasped her hands together very tightly and pressed her lips to keep her smile in check. Surely he had to know that she would be spending a very great deal of time in the woods in the very near future. 

About A Proper Introduction to Dragons by Maria Grace
Buy it from Amazon  |  Add it to Goodreads
Most people were blissfully unaware that England was overrun by dragons. Only those born with preternatural hearing could hear and converse with dragonkind, and even those rarely came into their hearing before they were fifteen. It was not Elizabeth’s fault that she discovered the truth about dragons when she was only four years-old.

It was also not Elizabeth’s fault that the old tatzelwurm, Rumblkins, who lived in the woods near Longbourn House befriended her. Really, he would have attached himself to anyone who fed him dried cod and scratched behind his ears.
So clearly, it could not be her fault when Rumblkins led her to a nest of endangered fairy dragon eggs that the Pendragon Treaty compelled her to save. Unfortunately her father does not agree.

Thomas Bennet, dragon-lore expert, faithful member of the dragon-hearing society, the Blue Order, and Keeper of the local wyvern, Longbourn, has a dragon-sized problem on his hands. At eleven years-old, his second-oldest daughter is hopelessly fascinated with all things dragon-related. But his wife and other daughters lack the ability to hear dragons, so the world of the Blue Order must remain hidden from them.

Now faced with an abandoned clutch of fairy dragon eggs to care for, the careful balance he walks between the needs of his jealous estate dragon, Elizabeth’s incorrigible draw toward dragons and continued secrecy from the rest of the family hangs in jeopardy. If only Elizabeth would be a more conventional child!

But how can a girl who shuns traditional ladylike pursuits to play with dragons ever be conventional? Does dragon-hearing society have a place for such an oddity as her?

about the author:
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

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  1. I love reading this book. I loved seeing how Lizzie met the dragons that become such an important part of her life in the time of Pride and Prejudice.

  2. Loved the excerpt and look forward to reading more about this release.

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful excerpt, Maria. Would you be willing to draw the different types of dragons mentioned in the Jane Austen's Dragons series? It would greatly help us to envision how each of them look like.


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