Festuscato kept his hand on the dragon’s neck and the top of the head where he found a spot that made the dragon purr
“Clugh glewg,” Festuscato said the mouthful.
“Glewg,” the dragon repeated.
“Brother look. Brother help.” Festuscato said that several times, since Clugh got preoccupied with swallowing the raw beef Donogh laid on the rock. Festuscato noticed the dragon did not flame the beef first, and he wondered if there might be something broken more than the hurt wing, like something wrong on the inside.
“What are you telling Clugh?” Donogh finally asked. He apparently made some peace as his hand returned to scratch under the dragon’s chin.
“Well.” Festuscato looked at the wing with his hands and felt glad the dragon made no hostile move when he touched the break. That had to be painful. “First, I told him we are his brothers, like family so he won’t eat us. Dragons have a natural sense about not setting family on fire, at least when they are as young as this. Now I am trying to ascertain the damage and see if I can help him heal, but I can’t hardly think straight because Greta keeps yelling “no” and “no way” in my head.”
“Greta?” Seamus asked.
“She is the healer,” Festuscato told them. “I’m surprised you can’t hear her from Dacia, three hundred years ago. She is that loud.”
“What can we do to help?” Bran asked the more practical question.
“Well.” Festuscato turned toward them and put his hand back on Clugh’s neck to stroke him some more. “You and Dibs can go bag a deer, the sooner the better. Being like family is a help, but not if the dragon gets hungry enough, and this one is a bit thin. About any game will do. Seamus, you could try praying for Clugh instead of for your own skin, and Donogh, talk nice to the dragon.”
“Will you teach me to speak in dragon words?” Donogh asked as Bran and Dibs slowly backed away.
“Yes, but first I am going to bring a friend of mine to help and see if we can heal the dragon wing. She is a fine lady, and she will try very hard not to scream in the face of the dragon. Donogh and Seamus, you must not scream either. We want a calm and peaceful dragon.” He turned to Clugh. “Clugh. I bring sister to make wing better. Sister help. Let sister make wing better.” It seemed a complicated thought and Festuscato was not sure if Clugh processed it all, but he went away and a very reluctant Greta came to stand in his place. She wore the full armor of the Kairos, but for the helmet, and that full armor included the cloak of Athena which, among other things, had proved seriously fireproof.
“Sister. Family.” Greta said quickly in the Agdaline language. “Sister.”
Clugh took the transformation in stride. He stuck out his nose to get a good whiff of sister while she squinted and stood perfectly still. To be sure, in that armor she had to smell very much like brother. Seamus yelped at the transformation, but softly lest he startle the dragon. Donogh said nothing.
“I think this is foolish,” Greta said, as she examined the wing with her own eyes and hands. “I have no idea how dragon anatomy works.” She paused to pet the beast. “Pet,” she said, and thought. “Well, maybe I do know a bit where one or more of my lifetimes knows something.”
“Pet,” Clugh wrapped his serpent tongue around the word.
“Sister help,” Greta said, and added in the Gaelic, “I hope.” She had a bag over her shoulder and got out some ointment. The first that she found was something that would work like a general anesthetic and deaden the pain—or at least it would have that effect on human flesh and blood. She talked while she worked, because it kept her fear at bay. “Dragons are not native to Earth. They belong to a people that fly between the stars. They were bred to guard the ships in deep space while they traveled slower than light between the stars and the paranoid Agdaline sleep in cryogenic chambers. When they land on a planet, they expel the big ones in space, but save one big one for touchdown, just in case the natives are not friendly. I don’t know how this young one got expelled, unless it went out with the big one, which means there is likely some big mama out there, somewhere.”
“I don’t understand most of those words,” Seamus admitted, as he finally took a step closer. Clugh took another whiff of the cleric and Greta grabbed Seamus’ hand and placed it on the dragon’s neck.
“Gently, but don’t be afraid to scratch. You can’t hurt him, and he likes it” she said, as she returned to her work on the wing. “Dragons are not really serpents, like reptiles, despite their appearance. They are really more like insects. The scales are like an exoskeleton and they have very few internal bones. If they had bones, they would be too heavy to fly, you see? And they have more help with flying as well. They have a bladder of a sort that runs along the belly, the full length of the body. When they digest, the bladder fills with hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The hydrogen gives them lift, like an old zeppelin, but they have to expel some now and then to keep from becoming bloated. They have a valve in their throat like we have that lets air into the lungs but swallows food into the stomach. The valve lets them expel hydrogen as needed, but the thing is, they are oxygen breathers and the hydrogen is like a toxin to them. I guess the bladder acts like our liver and kidneys and strains out the toxin. But anyway, they have this great thing, two little bones connected to the valve that rub and spark like a flint when they let out some gas.”
“And that spark sets the gas on fire,” Seamus understood.
Greta nodded. “It is all automatic, and a great defense mechanism, don’t you think? There.” Greta stepped back and Clugh turned his head, practically knocking Seamus down to give Greta a great, slobbering lick. Greta’s response will remain untranslated. It came out in her native Dacian, so no one there understood it, anyway. She traded back to Festuscato, and he came dressed in his casual clothes.
“He feels better,” Donogh suggested as they heard Dibs in the distance.
“Clugh. Clugh.” Dibs was correct in thinking it best not to come up on a dragon unannounced. They did manage a deer, and in such a short time, Festuscato had to ask.
“We found a small herd not far from here,” Bran confessed.
“I was surprised,” Dibs said. “I would figure the whole area for miles around a dragon would be deserted.”
“It probably was,” Festuscato said. “But it doesn’t take long for the animals to figure out the dragon is inured and not up for hunting. News travels fast in the forest. Now, put the deer on the rock.” They did and Clugh whined a bit. It had not been cooked, and too much uncooked meat could give a dragon a belly ache. “Mother come,” Festuscato said in Agdaline, and he stepped aside so Danna, mother goddess of the Celts could step into his shoes. She immediately blinked Dibs, Bran, Seamus and Donogh ten feet away, and put an invisible wall between them and the dragon, anticipating the dragon’s response.
“Mother is here,” Danna said, and touched the dragon on the nose as she tweaked her image in the dragon’s mind. Clugh began to bob his head up and down in excitement, and then it could not help expelling a bit of fire.
“Lady!” Seamus shouted, but the fire merely warmed Danna. Danna was rooted in the fires of Mount Etna. She was Vesuvius on volcano day. She was not a sun goddess, but contained the sun within her, and she had children like Gwyn and Lugh who reflected the very essence of light and radiant heat. Danna, mother dragon, turned to face the deer and toned down her flame to almost nothing. She let it pour from her mouth which she thought of as very dragon-like, and cooked the deer to perfection. That made Clugh get very excited, but he would not move until Mother gave permission.
“Baby eat,” Danna said, and the dragon squealed in delight and attacked the deer. “Stay. Nest.” Danna said, and she expanded the place in the rocks where Clugh slept, and filled the floor of the space with pebbles and rocks, an uncomfortable bed for humans, but well suited for dragons. “Stay. Nest.” She made sure the words penetrated Clugh’s brain, and she added, “Brother and sister will return tomorrow.”
Danna backed away and let Clugh feast. When she left and Festuscato returned, he moved the others away from that place. “The dragon will heal slowly,” he said.
“Of course, the question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of healing a dragon?” Bran asked. It was a long sentence for him, and deserved an answer as Dibs and Seamus both looked at the big man with faces that said they just then realized what they had been doing and wondered if it was wise.
“Because,” Festuscato drew out the word. “I hate to see anyone suffer, man or animal, and you never know how an act of kindness might be repaid. Karma, you know.”
“As you say,” Dibs shrugged when Donogh interrupted.
“Remember your promise. You promised to teach me dragon words.” Festuscato smiled and tussled the twelve-year-old’s hair, while he thought the first words he would teach would be no fire, do no harm, friend and brother. He imagined he might get the boy to call the dragon “Brother Clugh” to remind the dragon every time that Donogh was his brother and not to be eaten. Brother Clugh, he thought. Maybe the dragon could be an early Dominican.
R6 Greta: In the Middle of the Night
In the early hours before dawn, Greta got up and stripped out of her armor. She washed herself thoroughly to get the dragon slobber off. Mavis came instantly awake, of course, and could not help the whispered comment.
“I smell dragon.”
“Shut up and go back to sleep.” Greta sent her armor back to Avalon, where it came from, and recalled her own dress and red cloak. She laid down with her mind full of emotions. She felt heartbroken for Enid and angry at Merlin. She felt afraid for young Donogh and for her friends, but soon enough she went back to sleep, and slept well. It had been a long day.
R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons. Patrick does well, and Festuscato stays out of it, but they left a trail, and some are determined to catch up. Until Monday, Happy Reading