A dragon hunter, a princess, and a lovable cast of characters must come together to take their fates into their own hands…
We’re thrilled to share the cover and preview an excerpt from I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons a whimsical new fantasy novel from beloved author Peter S. Beagle—available from Saga Press on May 14, 2024.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Unicorn comes a new novel with equal amounts of power and whimsy in which a loveable cast of characters trapped within their roles of dragon hunter, princess, and more must come together to take their fates into their own hands.
Dragons are common in the backwater kingdom of Bellemontagne, coming in sizes from mouse-like vermin all the way up to castle-smashing monsters. Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus Thrax (who would much rather people call him Robert) has recently inherited his deceased dad’s job as a dragon catcher/exterminator, a career he detests with all his heart in part because he likes dragons, feeling a kinship with them, but mainly because his dream has always been the impossible one of transcending his humble origin to someday become a princess valet. Needless to say, fate has something rather different in mind…
Noted author and screenwriter Peter S. Beagle is a recipient of the prestigious Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Mythopoeic Awards, and a World Fantasy and Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America 2018 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, among other literary achievements. He has given generations of readers the magic of unicorns, haunted cemeteries, lascivious trees, and disgruntled gods. A prolific author, his best-known work is The Last Unicorn.
It was The Dream—the one that visited him so often that it had long since lost any terrifying aspect and become as drearily predictable as the ones in which he was being driven out of town by a jeering, laughing mob, or found himself suddenly naked and pink as a shrimp while kneeling to court Violette-Elisabeth, the baker’s daughter. Even so, The Dream left him feeling strangely thrilled—in a shivery sort of way—when he woke to his mother’s call from downstairs: “Gaius Aurelius! Gaius Aurelius Constantine!”
“Not now, not now” he muttered into his pillow, turning over in forlorn pursuit of a few last fragments of sleep. But Adelise was on the bed already, pulling the coverlet back with her tiny fangs and tickling his ear with her forked tongue. He could hear clumsy Fernand scrabbling for a purchase on the shaky bedstead, which meant that Lux would be next, and then Reynald— poor little Reynald, always last in everything.
The call came again. “Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus!”
He tried to shout “I’m awake!” but only managed a croak this time, as he forced himself to sit up. What was in that new batch at Jarold’s last night? “Get away, Adelise, I’m awake, I’m awake…Oh dear God, I’m dead but I’m awake.” Reynald’s long scarlet head appeared above the edge of the bed, accompanied by a piercing cry for attention. “Reynald, keep it down, I’m not well.”
“Gaius Aurelius Constantine Heliogabalus Thrax, it’s chestnut pancakes—and if you’re not here in the kitchen in two minutes, it’ll be hog slop!” The three pigs rooting disconsolately in the small pasture out back could no more have passed as hogs than Robert could have, but Odelette Thrax was an optimist in all things. “And there’s a job waiting, Gaius Aurelius—”
“Don’t call me that!” It was enough of a bellow to send all four of the dragons scurrying as he lurched out of bed and began stiffly fumbling his way into his heavy working clothes. Robert’s mother alternated between being his best friend and a headache to dwarf the one he already had—sometimes she filled both positions simultaneously—but at all times he was extremely fond of her cooking.
Adelise leaped to his shoulder as he clumped down the stair, her claws skidding on the dragonskin vest that he always wore to a job, and whose origins she and the others never seemed to sense. He hated the vest and all the rest of the armor of his trade as he had never hated any item of clothing—all right, except for the silly green forester’s cap that his mother had made him wear as a boy—but his customers took confidence in his appearance, as some kind of emblem of his expertise, and it did have practical benefits in a day’s work, for all its uncomfortable stiffness. He reached up awkwardly to pet the carefully-balanced dragonlet, feeling the feather- softness of her deep-green scales, which would not turn tough, almost impermeable, for another year yet. The women like them just like this at Dragon Market. The men want the yearlings.
The thought of Dragon Market roiled his empty stomach as he sat down at his mother’s table. She was at the stove with her back to him, cooking what amounted to her third breakfast of the morning. Robert’s younger brothers, Caralos and Hector, were of course already out and at work behind a neighboring farmer’s oxen, having left at dawn. Now Patience and Rosamonde were racing through their own meal, late for lessons as usual, too hurried even to greet him.
Robert loved his sisters, but he also envied them painfully. He had always thought it unjust that village girls got to be properly educated, while boys must apprentice early, and were lucky if they were taught to read and write at home, as he had been. He often peered over his sisters’ shoulders while they were studying, until they complained and their mother shooed him away.
By the time Patience and Rosamonde had left for the schola, trailing promises of good behavior they would keep only if absolutely necessary, Robert had revised his opinion of the day. Chestnut pancakes, browned perfectly at the edges…pomegranate syrup…fresh milk…there might be something said for living after all. Wolfing down his third cake, he asked with his mouth full, “Who’s the engagé?” He never referred to the people who hired him as customers, that being a term favored by those in trade, the people who sold things, rather than renting out their skills. In all honesty, he didn’t actually care, but it mattered a great deal to his mother. She was intensely aware that her late husband’s work, now Robert’s work by inheritance, assigned them to the lowest rung of a steep and unforgiving social ladder.
“Medwyn and Norvyn, behind the granary.” Odelette turned then, frowning as she saw Adelise on his shoulder. “Does she have to hear this?”
“Go help the others with the beds, Adelise,” Robert said gently. The dragonlet flicked out her tongue and spread her miniscule wings, their inner vanes flushed purple as thunderclouds, then glided to the floor and scuttled up the stairs to Robert’s bedroom. The four of them always did his bed first, no matter how often he tried to get them to alter their routine. Sometimes they even tried to make the bed with him still in it.
When he was sure the little dragon was out of earshot, Robert turned back to his mother. “Medwyn and Norvyn? That’s going to be nasty. Another caud of serpens flamma vegrandis, I’ll lay odds—it’d serve them right, not letting me sweep for eggs the last time. Five, what, six seasons in a row, is it? You think they’d learn.”
“They didn’t like your father. They like you. Maybe you can convince them.”
“Not much chance of that so long as they both keep the books. They’re too busy cheating each other to know a bargain, once nothing’s blistering their ankles. Ah well,” he sighed as he slid his seat back, “More food on the table, and new scrolls for the twins. There are worse livings.”
But later, after he’d left the house to gather up Ostvald and the day’s tools, he had to confess to himself that he really couldn’t think of any.
Excerpted from I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons by Peter S. Beagle. Copyright © 2024. Reprinted by permission of Saga Press of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.