Chapter 8: The Care and Feeding of Dragons
The Care and Feeding of Dragons
We are still cleaning up after Markel's disasterous encounter with a wolf. Specifically, Kate cleans out a small courtyard, so the castle healer can quickly receive the little fay who tried to help Markel, now being flown in by Robbie. The healer elf does a quick preparatory spell and cleans up the patient. He's about the size of a Marginalis but looks more like a fay. The doctor says he recognizes him as someone who lives in the upper town, near the castle, and we'll soon have his family tracked down. He's stablized now, and will live.
Meanwhile, back in the clearing where the attack happened, Daphne is doing her own kind of first aid, on the forest itself, healing branches, planting new shrubs, etc. In the center of the clearing, the dragon is wrapped protectively around Markel, currently inside the field autodoc. Dafnord stands nearby, and Moranna and Daewen lie sleeping, exhausted, under some bushes.
Gannar flies in from his last errand and looks the situation over. Like all androids, he has O-negative blood, universal donor, for the convenience of humans in need. He offers some of this blood to the autodoc, for Markel. It accepts. Only...
Only the autodoc is wrapped in dragon. Nervous, protective dragon. Gannar asks Dafnord to talk to the dragon, telepathically. Dafnord is not used to being the Telepath in Charge, but he is actually pretty good at it, and tries to talk to the dragon.
Unfortunately, the dragon doesn't really do verbal thought, and its set of concepts doesn't line up well with Dafnord's. The offers "I'll get you some food" and "Gannar wants to help" produce more confusion than anything else. "Are you hurt?" Well, examining its emotions reveals several kinds of distress -- anxiety over Markel, shame at letting him get hurt, but also pure physical pain. It wrenched a wing, and its throat hurts. The throat looks physically unmarred, but Markel's throat is badly ripped, and the two are in rapport.
Dafnord concentrates on the idea that Gannar wants to help Markel, and the dragon grudgingly raises a wing to let the android approach. The autodoc extends a tentacular hose, attaches to Gannar's forearm, and immitates a leech. Dafnord watches for a while and, when the android starts looking too pale, tells the autodoc to stop. "Very well." Hm. How long was it planning to go on sucking? Does the autodoc perhaps regard androids as a disposable resource?
Dafnord telepaths to Kate, asking her to fetch Gannar some food from the castle, heavy on the fluids. Meanwhile, he'll go hunting for something to give the dragon a pick-me-up. A few minutes' stalking gets him near a doe. He unlimbers his sword Umbra, draws it back to swing--
It's a mental cry, but very loud on its own plane. Dafnord pulls his blow, the doe leaps away, and Dafnord says to the air, "Sorry. Only wanted to feed the dragon." He looks around, but there's still no obvious audience. Still, something fearful has gone out of the atmosphere; apologizing was the Right Thing to Do.
Okay, he'll go hunt over there instead...
Around then, Kate has arrived with chicken soup for Gannar. While the android re-tanks, she puts out a telepathic call for Dafnord. "How are you?" "Fine," he replies, unconvincingly. "I'm fine. Fine. How are you?" He's still spooked by that psychic shout.
Salimar, who was also on the net, ponders this. She pokes about clairvoyantly, despite being back in town. Nothing. She goes to a butcher shop, buys a steak for the dragon, transforms into a very large eagle, and flies off to deliver it. The dragon receives it gratefully; the leftover chicken soup was not at all to its taste.
Dafnord returns to the clearing after an unsuccessful hunt, and the telepaths gathered there realize the dragon was anxious about his absence and is relieved he's back. Around then, Dafnord also realizes the mental voice he heard was that of the dragon. They piece it together: the dragon knows it's not supposed to hunt sapient beings, and it seems it recognized that doe as sapient. By a tremendous mental effort, it produced a verbalized thought. Oh, good. What a faux pas it would have been to slaughter a were-deer or some such. They ought to wear name tags or something...
Salimar asks the autodoc how Markel is doing. Actually, she asks it for a readout, which is a mistake because the result is a flood of technical data. Gannar does better, being adept at talking to automation: Markel should stay in the autodoc for about five days, but he can be moved in a few hours.
Back down at the castle, Robbie consults the elven doctor about the dragon and moving Markel. The doctor was only dimly aware we had a dragon about the place and didn't know it was involved in the wolf incident. In fact, he didn't know about Markel, either. Robbie explains the whole situation, and the doctor is alarmed that we didn't bring Markel along first. Robbie explains about the autodoc.
The doctor may be a little miffed at being preferred second to a "clockwork," but agrees to come help move Markel. He rummages up a Silver Service elf with good medic experience, to stay with the wounded "boggart."
While the doctor does that, Robbie goes to the Cook to get some dragon chow. The Cook sends him off with a brawny fellow carrying two sides of ... beast. Auroch. Something. The meat and the doctor all have to be flown across forested mountainside, which is very disorienting to these folk, but it all gets done. The doctor looks the dragon over and says most of its problem is not physical. We need someone good at mental magic, a specialist in person/animal bonds for preference, and someone with the gift of "quiet mind." All in all, some member of the Family.
Gannar volunteers to go look for a dragon-handler and lofts, looking like a marionette on one string. Hey, at least his lift motor doesn't run on blood. A few minutes later, he plops down in the stable area, finds a stablehand, and asks for someone who can help handle an upset dragon. He's directed to the Silver Service.
The first Silver Service member he meets explains that most of the Service, along with most of the remaining Family, is out, handling some sort of incursion just across the water on the "mainland" Chaos Marches, where an elf and some Marginalia were attacked. But please keep it quiet for now. But he directs Gannar to one medic still in house -- the fellow now looking after the wounded boggart.
This fellow hears Gannar's tale and explains that Moranna and her husband Suliamon are the folk we need. Moranna is, of course, sleeping in the bushes right next to the dragon. Gannar decides the obvious thing to do is fetch Suliamon, too, to have the complete set.
The medic, however, has been looking at the android's pale face. He grabs his arm and barks, "Sit down, sir!" Gannar, designed and trained for a life of military discipline, and wobbly on his pins, sits. The elf feels his forehead, then gives him a bottle of tonic to drink. Gannar obeys. But, "I'm not wounded, you know," he tells the elf medic. "I gave some blood to Markel."
"You were, perhaps, over-generous, sir," is the reply. Damned racist autodoc.
Feeling better, Gannar goes to Suliamon's rooms, near our own, and explains things to him. He willingly comes. All the more when he learns Moranna is there. Suliamon, you see, is very protective of Moranna and takes a dim view of risky adventures on her part. The medic tried to hint this to Gannar, but delicate social cues are not part of his programming.
Moranna gets advance warning, thanks to the telepathy net, and spiffs herself up so as not to look too alarming to hubby when he arrives. The two of them quiet the dragon's agonized rapport with Markel, while Robbie creates a stretcher for Markel and the autodoc. Soon, the dragon can bear to uncurl, and we all fly and float off back to the castle. Daewen, who woke late in the proceedings, shrinks the dragon down to mastiff-size, so it can stay near Markel conveniently.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.