Young Elizabeth meets her first dragon beyond the borders of Longbourn’s Keep–and he’s a drooling, teething baby dragon.
It was odd to have an entire seat of the carriage to herself, no one blocking her view or the fresh breeze that danced in on the sunshine through the open side glass. Usually Elizabeth crowded in with her sisters, squashed in on either side. Today, she had to brace against the sway and jolt of the coach as each bump transmitted through the thin squabs on her own. Who would think she would be missing their presence when she had all this lovely room to herself?
Papa sat across from her, eyes lightly closed, not quite sleeping, but lost in his own thoughts. He did not prefer constant conversation during a long carriage ride. It might have been a lonely journey except for the lovely large leather-bound book in her lap. Papa had brought that particular tome of dragon lore along knowing how much she had yearned to read it. Her pride might have been offended that he though she needed to be bribed into silence had it been any ordinary book, but Dragon Etiquette Volume 1: Greetings was a prize worth setting aside pride for, especially considering how rarely allowed his books out of his study.
Given she would meet her first dragon outside the confines of Longbourn’s Keep on this trip, studying dragon greetings was a very fitting thing. Bedlow was just a baby though, a minor drakingling, just hatched six weeks ago. So, he was unlikely to be very particular about proper manners.
That was just as well though. Dragon greetings were rather complex. No, not rather, very complex. Very very complex. Surely it would be easier to be presented before the King. At least in court there were fewer nuances to be considered.
With dragons, so much depended on dominance, whether or not it was already established or was this greeting to establish dominance for the first time? Were those who were meeting the same species or not? Would they honor the species hierarchy if the same species–frilled minor drakes were loath to recognize that horned minor drakes ranked above them, so much so that they would regularly fight to prove themselves dominant. Were wings, frills, fins or hoods involved? Tails, feathers, puffing one’s body out, stances, even scents all could play a role.
How was one to remember it all for each different species and possible combination of species? Moreover, how was she to properly communicate with dragons when she lacked the capacity to express the correct body language?
Obviously members of the Blue Order accomplished that and had for some time. But so many attempted greetings ended in misunderstanding, sometimes of a tragic variety. Could there not be a better way to convey a greeting more accurately?
Perhaps there could be some sort of substitute for those body parts she was not blessed with—a fan or large hat perhaps. No, that would be silly. She giggled under her breath. A coat… or a cloak! That might be very good. She pulled her commonplace book and pencil from her carpet-bag and jotted a quick reminder. Perhaps she might try her hand at a few sketches later when Papa did not require her assistance.
“Lizzy? Lizzy are you paying attention? We have arrived. Arrange your bag now so we can debark.” Papa reached for his satchel.
She jumped and slipped both books into her bag. How delightful Papa had not asked for his volume back. Hopefully she could continue her study later tonight.
Papa handed her out of the carriage in front of a large apothecary shop. Attractive displays filled the front window that kept watch over a neatly swept porch. A sign under the window bore the silhouette of a dragon on one side and an apothecary jar on the other and read Bedlow’s in large red letters.
What a very friendly looking place it seemed. Her heart raced just a mite. There was drakling to meet just inside. Would he be friendly? Would he like her?
A round, red man flung open the door and beckoned them inside. Everything about him was rosy: his cheeks, his nose, his hair, his mustache, even his apron was a faded red. But it was all a happy sort of gingery-red, not the angry sort of short-tempered red that some people wore like a scowl. He had a funny sort of trundle-waddle step as he showed them through his tidy shop to a sitting room upstairs through a cloud of herbal scents tinged with a hint of dragon musk.
“You must forgive me. My sister who keeps house for me is away right now.” Mr. Garland bowed a little awkwardly as they entered the sitting room.
The room was only half the size of Mama’s sitting room, a bit crowded and cluttered and dark. Not gloomy, precisely, but dark in the way rooms were when the occupant had more interesting things to do than clean rooms. A bit like Papa’s study.
“My I present my daughter, Elizabeth. She has come to be my scribe today.” Papa nodded at her and she curtsied.
Mr. Garland’s eyes grew wide. “She knows about …”
Papa patted her shoulder. “She hears and already knows quite a bit about dragons.”
Mr. Garland heaved a little sigh that sounded relieved. “Very good. I hate the thought of keeping Bedlow away, the little fellow is too young to be left on his own for very long.”
What a very dear fellow, so concerned for his little friend. It was difficult not to like Mr. Garland very much even after just a few moments of meeting.
“Bring him out, we will both be charmed to meet him.” Papa shuffled toward the nearest chair, a frayed and faded wingback. Elizabeth perched on a stool beside him.
That brought a huge smile to Mr. Garland’s face, and he shuffled out. A short moment later, he returned, with a bundle the size of one of Papa’s pointers wrapped in a rather tattered blanket. He crouched down and his burden spilled out of his arms in a tangle of limbs and frayed wool.
A little red drake—of course he would have to be red to match his friend! It was a struggle not to laugh—tumbled out onto the floor. He righted himself on all fours and shook a bit as though to get everything in the right places again. About the size of a hunting dog, he was hardly alarming, especially because his baby proportions. His deep blue eyes were far too large for his face, wide and innocent, but that would soon be replaced by mischief, no doubt. His feet were too big for his body, rather like a puppy, and his tail far too long. In short, he was adorable.
She crouched down and dipped her head in a greeting of equals—they were both children after all. He toddled up to her and touched his nose to hers. “I Bedlow.”
“And I am Elizabeth. Shall I scratch your ears?”
He stretched his neck toward her in a clear invitation. She scratched behind his ears the way that Rumblkins most liked. Bedlow cooed and thumped his tail. He turned his side to her for more scratching. Mr. Garland’s smile stretched into a hearty grin.
Were all dragons itchy? It seemed like Rumblkins always was, now Bedlow. That was probably something she should write down. Bedlow wound around her like a cat, rubbing his face against her legs.
Papa reached down to pat his head. The drakling met him halfway, tail thumping. “What a fine little fellow he is.”
“He is a grand young thing for sure.” Mr. Garland joined them near the floor and scratched under Bedlow’s chin. “But the poor lad seems rather sulky at the moment. I think his teeth be bothering him. I ‘spect I will need to call the surgeon soon to lance his gums if he don’t get better soon. I hate to do it, but none of the dragon lore has any better notions.”
“Is teething in dragons as dangerous as teething in human babies?” she asked, turning to Papa. “The Lucas’s baby boy nearly died of teething, even though his gums were lanced by the best surgeon in Meryton. Poor little chap.”
“I am not sure anyone knows for sure, but we always take all the precautions we can for the comfort and safety of our friends.” Papa leaned back with a pained look. Was that for the dragon or for his own discomfort?
“Do you know anything about babies, young miss? I know young women often do. If you know anything to comfort him …”
“I will try to remember what was done for the Lucas boy, but in any case, I can sit with him and keep him company whilst you and Papa talk.” Bedlow rubbed his jaw hard against her knee, hard enough to hurt a bit.
Poor baby must be very uncomfortable.
“He can show you around the house, if he would like. That might give him a few moments distraction.” Mr. Garland rubbed the sides of Bedlow’s face, and he drooled a little. “Would you like to show your new friend the old place?”
“Come. I show.” Bedlow gently took her wrist in his mouth and pulled her toward the door.
“Go along Lizzy. I will call for you when we need you.”
She struggled to contain her smile as she scurried along after Bedlow. Papa trusted her alone with a new dragon friend!
He led her to the stairs and down to the dim kitchen with only a single window. But a cheery fire crackled near a large basket on the hearth. Lingering scents of old stew and baking bread filled the stone walls with a comfortable sense of home.
“Do you sleep there?”
“It warm. I like warms.” He sat hard on the stone floor and pawed at his mouth. “I no like this.”
“May I see?” She sat next to him.
“Can make stop?” He cocked his head, a bit of drool sliding from the corner of his wide mouth down his neck. “Itches, hurts, burns. I no like.”
“Open your mouth and promise not to bite me.” On second thought, putting her hand in a dragon’s mouth might not be a good idea.
Bedlow’s jaw swung open surprisingly wide. Gracious, just how large was his mouth? Just behind his baby fangs, his gums were swollen red and angry-looking. Poor baby!
“Do not bite me.” She reached inside and rubbed her fingertips along his gums firmly, like she had seen Lady Lucas do with her baby.
Bedlow started and nearly clamped down, but stopped just in time. She would definitely think twice about putting her hand in a dragon’s mouth again!
He leaned into her hand. “Dat gud.” He murmured through her fingers.
Baby Lucas had liked the same thing. Hmmm, Lady Lucas had given him something to put in his mouth, a stick of some sort…no… wait it was a coral! A family heirloom of some sort. He would gum it and it made him feel better, for a short time at least.
Well that would not do—even if Mr. Garland had such an heirloom, there was little chance it was big enough for that mouth!
Bedlow sat on the hearth and moved from her fingers to gumming her wrist—just a bit too hard for her liking. Ouch. But, he cooed so happily as he did it, how could she possibly stop him?
Clearly the little drake needed something to chew on, but what? Wood would splinter, pewter was too hard and could puncture, a tied rag soaked in sugar or even rum would shred too easily not to mention that few dragons tolerated liquor well. A horseshoe would be too hard, so would bricks or stone.
He released her wrist for a moment, and she rose to pace the length of the kitchen. Sometimes the movement helped to shake a thought or two loose.
Bedlow trotted after her like a puppy, whining softly. “No go, please no go.”
“I am right here.” She reached down to scratch his ears. He really was much like a large puppy … that was it! Puppies chewed bones!
Surely there would be a large bone somewhere in a kitchen that smelt like stew. She scanned the kitchen. There, in a large bowl, probably destined for soup. Hopefully Mr. Garland would not mind—though his cook probably would. But he had said she could try to soothe Bedlow if she could.
She hurried over to the bone and carefully lifted it from the bowl, brushing vegetable trimmings away as she did.
Bedlow rose up on his back legs and sniffed what she was doing. “Smells good. Like dinner.”
“Here. I think it will feel good on your gums. Chew it like you were doing with my wrist.” She carried the bone to his hearth basket and encouraged him to climb in. Even if the bone did not help, at least he would be somewhere he found comfortable.
His eyebrows knit, but he kept the question to himself. Probably because the meat left clinging to the bone smelt too good to refuse. He curled up in the basket and took the bone from her hand.
Naturally he ignored her instructions and picked all the meat off first and licking it well for good measure. Only after his snack was finished—because there were few things dragons liked better than eating—did he begin to chew as she directed. He whimpered and complained at first, slowly getting used to the sensation, then he began to go after the bone with enthusiasm. A few minutes later, he had rolled onto his back to hold the bone with all four dexterous feet as he chewed, the tip of his red tail flicking happily.
“Well, I’ll be…”
Elizabeth jumped and turned. Mr. Garland and Papa stood in the doorway.
“I have been calling for you for at least five minutes complete.” Papa scowled just a little.
“Never mind that! What have you done?” Mr. Garland trundled over to the hearth basket. “The little chap has not looked this happy since this business with his teeth began. Look at him.”
“Like bone! Feel good!” Bedlow’s tail wagged happily.
Mr. Garland scratched the drakling’s pale belly. “You may have all the bones you like. I will put an order in with the butcher directly.” He looked up at Papa. “I think I will hold off calling that surgeon.”
“As long as the relief continues, I do not see why not.” His features softened just a mite. He was pleased after all.
“Why is there nothing of this in dragon lore? It seems so very simple a solution.” Mr. Garland balanced his fists on his hips.
“I have no idea. Perhaps no one thought to take note of it.” Papa glanced at Elizabeth, one eyebrow cocked.
“You will, Miss, write this down for me, and anything else you can think of for his comfort—in between copying for your father, of course. Will you not?” Mr. Garland extended an open hand to her.
“I should be most happy to.”
“I expect we shall be here several days, Lizzy. Do start by writing a letter to your mother to inform her of that. Come upstairs to the office. There is a writing desk waiting for you.”
She rose; Bedlow jumped up after her, carrying his bone in his mouth. He trotted upstairs to the office and curled around her feet, gnawing happily. His hide was warm from the fire and felt so cozy around her ankles.
Mama might grumble about them being gone for several days, but Papa seemed to like Mr. Garland’s company and really, what could be much better than days spent learning new dragon genealogies with a new dragon friend to keep company with?
If this was what Blue Order Business was like, pray Papa would invite her along very often!
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