They ran out in time to see the dragon land in the village square. It looked like a big, old worm, and looked mean. Gerraint found the horses where they left them, no doubt waiting for a decision to be made concerning the strangers. Gerraint knew better than to get up on a horse liable to panic any second. Bedivere figured as much, but George did not know better. He mounted and then struggled to get his horse under control.
The dragon flamed a house and then tore at the wood until it collapsed, no doubt looking for something edible. Gerraint ran out, Bedivere on his heels, though Gerraint doubted his words would have an effect on such a mature beast. “No fire,” he shouted all the same. “Do no harm.” The dragon certainly heard. It turned, and its tail struck Gerraint and Bedivere and knocked them some distance where they crashed into the side of a house and slipped down, badly shaken.
George saw, pulled up the lance he had been given in Caerleon, and let his horse have the reigns. The horse, in a panic, actually ran straight at the beast as animals sometimes will. George lowered his lance, aimed for the dragon’s mid-section, but the dragon saw and began to lower its head with the intention of plucking the rider right off the beast, and no doubt going back for the beast after. George raised his lance without realizing it. He simply wanted to ward off that head and those terrible teeth. The lance entered the dragon’s head in a soft spot just below the jaw where the impenetrable scales were more flexible to allow the worm to swallow. It broke out the top of the dragon head, and the worm immediately began to thrash about. The horse threw George, and he barely avoided being crushed by the worm as it finally collapsed to the ground.
Gerraint got up and arrived at George’s side just after Heingurt. Heingurt picked up the boy to take him inside, thinking the boy might be unconscious. George opened his eyes and spoke. “Not bad for a dragon that doesn’t exist.” Gerraint said nothing. He let Bedivere give the boy his verbal lashing. Everyone started laughing, a release of tension, when the same man came again to the door and yelled. “Another one.”
This time, they got outside to see it circling. As it came down, Gerraint noticed it still had some feathers that clung to its head and around the front and back claws, which were not fully grown. “This one is young, a female. I may be able to talk to this one.” Gerraint grew his cloak to cover himself completely if necessary. Athena called it fireproof when she gave it to him. “Bedivere, stay here with George,” Gerraint commanded, and he stepped out to where the dragon, clearly smaller than the first one, set down beside the great worm.
“No fire. Do no harm.” Gerraint repeated the Agdaline phrases over and over. The Agdaline bred the beasts to respond to verbal commands, and the dragons usually listened when they were young enough. “No harm. Friend.”
The dragon turned its big head without turning the rest of its body, as only a serpent can do. “No fire,” it repeated, and Gerraint got a look at the particular coloring and pattern of scales on the beast. All at once, Gerraint no longer stood there. Margueritte stood in his place and smiled. She knew this beast.
“Mother,” Margueritte called.
“Mother,” the dragon repeated in a forlorn wail that could not help but let out a touch of fire. It went over Margueritte’s head. The dragon turned its head back to look at the dead monster and might have let out a tear.
“No.” Margueritte was firm. “You are mother. I am baby.” She repeated, “I am baby.”
“Mother?” The dragon looked again and then turned enough to comfortably face Margueritte.
“You are mother. I am baby,” Margueritte said, not quite certain how much verbal information the beast could actually grasp, but they were clever when they were young.
The dragon put its nose to the ground and came right up to Margueritte. It sniffed, and the wind almost knocked Margueritte off her feet. “Baby?” It sniffed again, and whether it smelled hints of the gods, or the fairy weave of the little ones, or simply Margueritte, it suddenly became excited. “Baby.” If dragons could smile, this one did. “Mother. Baby.”
“Mother, fly. Fly south.” Margueritte knew compass points were part of the programming, but she could not be sure if that would translate to Earth directions. Earth was definitely not the Agdaline home world where dragons were first born and bred. “Fly south,” she repeated. “Over the great water. New home. New nest. Mate. Male is south. Over great water. Mate. Make babies. Fly mother. Fly.”
“South. Over water. Mate, make babies.” The dragon appeared to be getting it, but there was no telling what the dragon honestly understood.
“Fly south. Over water. Mate. Make babies.” Margueritte repeated once more, and the dragon also repeated.
“South. Make babies.” Then it stuck its head down to sniff Margueritte once more before it spoke again. “Baby, come. Fly south.”
“Mother.” Margueritte dared to reach out and touch the dragon’s nose. The dragon purred, a sound much deeper and stronger than any cat could ever hope to make. “South. Make babies. I will find you.” Margueritte was not sure if the dragon understood that last phrase. She was also not sure if she could extract herself from this awkward position, but then she found herself fading from sight until she became invisible. She shouted once more. “Mother. Fly south. Make babies.”
“Baby.” There was a moment of panic on the part of the dragon, but dragons routinely deal with the loss of babies. Sometimes, if the mother does not play black widow and eat the father after mating, the father will certainly eat the babies. Margueritte imagined it was part of their breeding. As big as the Agdaline spaceships were, there was only so much room on a ship flying a thousand years through the void. She imagined papa dragon made good eating.
“Fly south. Over water.” The dragon said and lifted its head. Flame shot out into the sky and the dragon lifted from the ground and circled several times to gain some height before it headed off in a southerly direction.
Margueritte turned. Rhiannon stood there, grinning. “So now you are getting yourself adopted by dragons? That is new even for you.”
“Thanks,” Margueritte responded happily. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of that one.”
“Yes. I could just picture baby you in a claw being carted off by mother, south over the big water.”
“Not a pretty sight,” Margueritte laughed and Rhiannon agreed. “Wait.” Margueritte stopped so Rhiannon stopped. Rhiannon looked curious, because even the gods could not read the mind of the Kairos, even when she was someone as plainly mortal as Margueritte. Margueritte surprised her as she bent over and gave Rhiannon a kiss on the cheek. Then Gerraint came back and as he did, he became visible. The Lady became visible with him.
“How sweet,” Rhiannon responded to the kiss.
“From Margueritte,” Gerraint said. “Not from me, you naughty girl.”
Rhiannon made a face at him, and they stopped at the front of the house. Bedivere and Hans Bad-Hand were the only ones still standing. Everyone else was down on at least one knee. “Good to see you again,” Rhiannon acknowledged Bedivere.
“My pleasure,” he responded.
“And Hans Bad-Hand. Do not be afraid. I am only here for George.” Rhiannon stepped up and put her finger under the boy’s chin to make him stand. Then she walked around him and examined him like one might examine a horse. She even spoke that way. “He is rough clay, but of good stock. I think I can train this one to good purpose. George, the dragon-slayer.” She smiled at the nickname. “I think I can teach you so next time, you do it right and don’t get yelled at by your Master.”
“Next time?” Gerraint caught it, and so did Hans by the look on his face.
Rhiannon nodded. “There are two more, male and female, moving down into the Midlands. They are, what do you call it, a different species?”
“Same species. Different breed,” Gerraint said. “Like dogs.”
“Yes, breed. They have more leg and fat middles. More like lizards, I suppose, even if they are still essentially worms.”
“Male and female?” Gerraint did not really ask
“Yes, I’m afraid the land will be dragon infested for some years to come. A few hundred years, at least.”
Gerraint sighed. “Okay.” There was no helping it, so he stepped up to George and shook his finger. “Now son.” He got in the boy’s face. “You listen to the Lady and do what she says. I don’t want any teenage backtalk. Mind your manners and be gracious with please and thank you. Now, remember the ideals of the Round Table. Defend the weak, the fatherless, the widows and orphans. Do good and live an honorable life, and you will be fine. Oh, and Rhiannon is not an angel, but she is near enough, sometimes. Is that clear?”
George said nothing. He simply threw his arms around Gerraint for a big hug.
“Uh. Bedivere.” Gerraint called him over, and he took over giving the boy a hug.
“Near an angel?” Rhiannon said.
“I said sometimes, maybe. But why should I tell you? It will just swell your head.”
Rhiannon leaned over and this time she kissed Gerraint on the cheek. “You are the mother. I am the baby,” she whispered. He said nothing, but she reached for George’s hand. “Are we ready?” George nodded. “Then let us begin.” Rhiannon and George and George’s horse and all his equipment vanished with a snap of Rhiannon’s finger.
Gerraint looked up at the clear sky. The sun would set in an hour or two. “I wouldn’t cut up that beast until morning,” Gerraint said. “They have a bladder that runs the whole length of the body and collects gas. Foul smelling. And no torches because it will explode if you are not careful.”
Hans Bad-Hand looked up at Gerraint as most men did. “These are good things to know. I believe I may have a few more questions for you.”
“I thought you might.”
Heingurt looked at Bedivere with an amazed, slightly dumbfounded look. Bedivere waited until Heingurt spit it out. “All on one day. A real, actual dragon. Two of them. And the Lady of the Lake. And she knew you. And your Lord, it was like the Lady was bowing to him the whole time.”
“It is like that sometimes with Gerraint,” Bedivere said. “These kinds of things do tend to follow him around. Why do you think I travel with him?”
“It must keep life interesting.” Heingurt grinned at the thought.
“No, it is to keep the old man out of trouble,” Bedivere said, and Heingurt laughed, some genuine and only some nervous laughter. “Come along, Brennan.” Bedivere picked the man up off the ground. He spent that whole time, prostrate, with his hands over his eyes and ears.
Arthur and Gerraint take what men they have to Brittany to fetch Lancelot, only to find they have to deal first with the Franks. Until then, Happy Reading