How did Elizabeth befriend fairy dragon April? Certainly not the way she expected.
Although she had wandered the woods on Longbourn estate often on her own, this particular part of the woods was unfamiliar, and technically forbidden. Old hardwoods grew thick here, casting deep shade over the loamy ground surrounding a large, rocky hillside. Generally she preferred a place with more sunlight, but these woods were pleasant enough, even rather peaceful.
Papa had long told her these woods were the explicit territory of the Longbourn dragon himself, an old, established wyvern named for the estate. As major dragons went wyverns were considered small and relatively insignificant, among the least powerful of the major dragon species. Still, a major dragon was a very powerful and not entirely predictable creature. She was not to go there until she had been properly introduced and received by him. Until then, he might consider her a trespasser, and it could end badly for them all.
It would be best to obey Papa, no doubt. But these were very unusual circumstances. Dragon lives were at stake. There was no time to waste waiting for him to return. She had to protect those babies!
Should Longbourn appear, no doubt he would understand and grant her passage through the woods of her father’s own estate. Surely the estate dragon would be a reasonable soul. He was after all responsible for the territory and should welcome her help. That only made sense.
Rumblkins ran deeper and deeper into the shady woods. Each springy hop propelled him a very great length—as if he had legs as long as a horse! For his odd means of locomotion, he was amazingly fast! Just how far back did these woods extend? Pray Rumblkins would not leave her! She might not be able to find her way back.
At long last he stopped near a very tall tree. She leaned hard against it, panting to catch her breath. This was the farthest she had ever walked alone, and perhaps the fastest! Foot prints and a tuft of red-brown fur lay near the tree. Stoats, several of them. One of Papa’s books said that fairy dragon eggs were a special treat to them.
She stepped back and peered into the highest limbs, her heart pinching painfully. “There is no way for me to get them down. I cannot climb that tree.”
The nest balanced precariously on a flimsy looking limb, in a ‘y’ shaped crook of the tree. It wasn’t particularly well built. It was a small miracle that the eggs had made it this long without falling out of the nest.
Perhaps the fairy dragons who had built it were not particularly sensible creatures. Papa said sometimes those eggs were not worth saving as the hatchlings were too stupid to take care of themselves. Yes, it did seem rather cruel, but such was the way of things sometimes. Perhaps she should go back to the house after all and wait for him. She chewed her knuckle. Given that she was not even to be in the woods, that might really be the best choice.
A roar of thunder shook the forest. But there were no clouds in the sky. Was that possible? A louder roar and the ground shook beneath her. She clutched her ears against the racket.
“Above!” Rumblkins cried as he ran circles around the tree.
She looked up and, by reflex alone, held out her apron as the nest tumbled out of the tree. With a small sideways jump, she caught the nest in the fabric, eggs tumbling out and nearly rolling to the ground. Her foot slipped and she landed solidly, jolting hard enough to cross her vision for a moment. Gracious! Her knees hurt, but the three leathery little eggs were safe!
Rumblkins wandered up beside her, sniffing and bumping her elbow with the top of his furry head. “I like eggs.”
She gathered the apron around the eggs. “No, you may not have them. I have already promised you dried cod. You may not have these as well.”
“Mrrow.” He sounded only a little put out. If nothing else, the fish were definitely bigger than the eggs, so waiting would serve him well.
Elizabeth placed the eggs back in the nest and untied her apron as more thunder roared. She wrapped the entire nest in her apron, tying the bundle securely. The ground shook so hard, she could barely get to her feet as leaves and small branches rained down upon her.
“Who is in my woods?” The voice was more of a roar than simple speech.
Rumblkins ducked under her skirts, between her ankles, trembling.
“You know him?”
“That is Longbourn, and he is cranky. We have not been introduced and I do not want to be.”
“You are trespassing in my woods!” A large scaly head appeared out of the branches with long sharp teeth.
So that was what a wyvern looked like in person. Most of the illustrations in the Blue Order bestiaries were not entirely accurate. Most had the wings too small. Longbourn’s wingspan was easily as wide as he was long nose to tail tip, certainly broad enough to enable him to fly should he choose. His head was smaller than most illustrations depicted, and more angular, not curved and elegant like a lizard’s, but blocky and square. Glittery gold eyes sat wide on his face—probably so he could see around his rather large snout which sported intimidating fangs. He would have been somewhat frightening except for the long whiskers than hung down like a mustache from his snout. The parish vicar wore a funny mustache rather like that.
Nothing had prepared her for his smell, though. Gracious, he stank, a mixture of musk, rotten meat and bad teeth. Perhaps some toothpowder and a bath would improve his scent.
He leaned down and roared in her face. “You are not supposed to be here. You have seen frightening shadows and will run home very frightened.”
“No, I will not. You are not nearly so frightening as that.”
Longbourn pulled back and sat on his haunches. “What did you say?”
“That you are being quite rude trying to tell me what I should think when I can hear you quite well.”
“It does not matter. You are in my territory and do not belong.”
She tucked her apron under her arm and balanced her fists on her hips. “Yes, I do. I am daughter of your Keeper, and probably will be your Keeper myself in time. Who else belongs here more than me?”
Longbourn pulled his head back and blinked. He looked very funny doing so. He stepped forward, turning his head to and fro, studying her. “Keeper’s daughter?”
“He never spoke of me?”
Longbourn snorted and stepped closer again. He leaned close and began smelling her head to toes and back again. “You smell like him.”
“There is good reason for that. I am his daughter. It is my right to be here.”
“Why have you not been introduced to me?” He tapped the tip of his tail on the ground. Papa had a similar habit of tapping his foot when he was puzzled.
“For that, you must ask him. I have been very impatient for an introduction. So let me do it myself. I am Elizabeth Bennet, soon, I hope to be junior Keeper to Longbourn Keep.” She curtsied deep enough to touch her knee to the ground and ducked her head.
Had she not been in line to be his Keeper, she would have touched her forehead to her ground, and ideally wrapped her wings over her body and face to cover herself to accept his dominance—had she had wings. She really needed to finish making that cloak…
He scratched the dirt beside her, accepting her introduction. “You have taken something from me.”
“No I have not.” She followed his gaze to her apron. “These are wild fairy dragon eggs. They are not yours.”
“They are in my woods, they are mine.” He pushed his nose at the apron under her arm.
She stepped back to avoid dropping them. Rude, pushy fellow. “Other dragons are not yours. They live in your woods and you are their laird. That is not the same as owing them.”
“I have not given you permission to take them.” He tried to nose her again.
She pushed back and he stopped, eyes wide, even surprised. “I do not need your permission.”
“Yes you do.” He stomped, but not very hard.
“Not according to Papa and the Blue Order. They say it is our responsibility to save dragon lives whenever and wherever possible and that is what I am doing.”
“Those are not dragons, they are eggs.” He snuffed, splattering her with a bit of slimy stuff. Ugh!
“Fairy dragons are worthless bits of fluff, hardly dragons at all.”
“But they are dragons nonetheless and I am going to take care of them no matter what you say. You cannot bully me.” She folded her arms over her chest and glowered.
Longbourn’s lip curled back, and he made the strangest sound. Was he laughing at her?
“I do not like being laughed at.” She pulled back her shoulders and lifted her chin.
“Go home, junior Keeper and bring your father back with you to make a proper introduction. You just might do.” Longbourn turned around, keeping his long tail carefully tucked in so as not to knock her off her feet and wandered off back into the woods.
“You are very lucky.” Rumblkins peeked out from under her petticoat and pressed against her ankle. “He is very grouchy and smells bad. I want my fish, now.”
“Let us return to the house, and you shall have what I promised.” Her knees trembled and her hands shook as they walked back, much more slowly than they had come. Had she really just met the estate dragon and been laughed at by him? How was she supposed to feel about that? And should she tell Papa what had happened?
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