I said his name in my sleep. The face of the huge nigh-black dragon drifted through my half-sleeping mind, full of fangs, soundlessly roaring at me. And then it changed, shifting to the human-looking face, oddly ethereal and not un-lovely, concerned black eyes looking down at me as I woke. His lips moved, slowly, and drew my attention…they mouthed a silent phrase, which I could not read, and then the images in my mind slowly faded to the deep black of peaceful sleep.
“Ah can teach ye…”
His voice echoed through my sleep, piercing and unnaturally loud, repeating what he‘d whispered to me at my pool. It seemed much more ominous, floating through my mind, accompanied by nothing but black nothingness. I jerked, gasped myself awake, breathing hard. I hoped I hadn’t screamed or whimpered this time. I felt stirring next to me, heard the slight noises as of one waking up, and felt a hand slip around to rest lightly on my waist. I had woken the Shadowsong along with me, it seemed. I hadn’t known till then, but I was tense, shaking, my breath hitched. I’d also managed to disturb half the nest, and was pinning it mussed like that, half propped up on my elbow with distance between me and my sleeping companion that had not previously been there. I run a high temperature, and the hotter the presence the colder a sudden draft is…I am not surprised he woke.
“What t’be bein’ wrong? Ye alright?” He spoke softly, knowing how I was after waking up unsettled from dreams or nightmares, and his voice was a full foot at least behind me. And I had known, if vaguely, that I had woken him. It should not have startled me, his voice, but it did. It felt like he was breathing down my neck. I gasped again, whipping around-I daresay I cuffed him in the head with a wing, unintentional though it was, at least it was not a dagger!-and stared at him, eyes wide and likely a peculiar and not-quite-naturally bright shade of some color or another. I was shaking, fighting the urge to run, and he was quick to soothe me. That bard’s voice of his…some days, if he chose, he could make do whatever he wanted with that voice.
He was slow to move, still, cautious and fully aware of my state despite being half awake himself. He kept steady moss-green eyes on me, eyes as calm and soothing and entrancing as the voice he used to bring me the rest of the way back to myself-he knew it, and he was using it for all it was worth, he would not wish fear threatening shock this morning-continuing until I relaxed some. I looked at his hand, still on my waist-somehow I’d not reacted to it being there, so he kept it there-touched it, almost unrecognizing. He smiled, bringing the back of his other hand to lightly graze my cheek. “There ye to be goin’…it be alright. Don’t to be worryin’…it jus’ be me. Ye to be knowin’ me…”
I nodded, slowly, managing a faint smile. I laid back down, on my side still but facing him this time, and burrowed into his chest. He continued to croon softly to me, stroking my hair with one hand, stroking my back between my wings with the other. I breathed deep, drinking in the scent of clover, leather, smoke, feathers and fire that always clung to him, shuddering. I was trying to fight off the fear, and it was fighting just as hard to stay. I felt him look up, the angle congruent with the doorway. As he did not react defensively, and I felt someone behind me at the same time, I thought it was likely the Brown. I didn’t react to nor acknolwedge his presence yet though…I couldn’t afford the attention, I needed it all towards calming myself. I would go to him later.
The Shadowsong nodded nigh imperceptibly, then leant down to rub his cheek against my hair. “What was it to be bein’ this time?” He knew my nightmares well…this was a considerably mild one, to be sure. It was lucky, but he didn’t skimp on helping me calm. His voice still had the soothing, gently musical lilt, and it was almost as comforting as his hands. He murmured in an old strain of Gaelic we both knew, and that did it. Within a minute I was almost able to breathe, and to stop shaking-the worst was over.
I took a shaky breath. It wasn’t easy, trying to get the words to settle in my mind…I was still caught in the chaos of what was behind the faces of the dragon, and the reactions in my mind I still couldn’t untangle. While I could breathe, I couldn‘t remove my face from his chest or scent, yet. He was patient while he waited, stroking my hair, knowing it helped calm me as stroking the neck does a skittish horse. “I…I don’t know.” I paused, not sure how to continue, and I felt the Shadowsong’s surprise and confusion. He made a sound as if to say something, but then seemed to change his mind. He simply waited.
“It was Rori, I think. I saw his face, both as a dragon when he’d roared at me, and as a humanoid when he was waiting for me to wake up. I knocked myself out thunking against his chest.” I turned just enough to look up at the Shadowsong, my expression furrowed with confusion over the images. It turned quickly to a mixture of annoyance and amusement, as I found his own face was contorted with the effort to keep from laughing. “What is so funny?” I was indignant, and annoyance was winning out over amusement.
He was shaking with the attempts to keep from laughing, now, he could see well enough it was rubbing me the wrong way. “Ah…ah don’ quite to be knowin’. Ah suppose it just to be bein’ funny tha’ ye to be reactin’ to his faces like ye were to be havin’ a nightmare. He not to be bein’ THA’ scary!”
I was annoyed, and I thumped his side lightly, to which I was rewarded by a squeak, and a brief tussle. We could never resist the chance to harmlessly beat at each other in times like these; we were just that way. I finally stopped laughing, but couldn’t help giving him a crooked, vaguely triumphant smile, having won the miniature wrestling match. He was sprawled on his back, me half pinning him, using his chest as a propping post for my elbows. “He is when you’re mostly naked, unarmed, and the first thing you see is GIANT FACE OF DOOM FANGS.” My face drew out into a melodramatic popping of mouth and eyes, and I added some theatrical finger waves for good measure. I was rewarded with the Shadowsong throwing back his head and laughing full out. “Aye…aye, ah suppose that would to be cuttin’ it.”
I grinned, and pushed him over a bit more, so that I could lay my head on his chest without needing to suffocate myself or be flopped off the nest. “Yes, yes it would. And YOU, Shadowsong dear, were not in this gown. I daresay this is a bit more risqué than your leathers, no matter how pretty you are in them.” I said the last bit as a friendly jibe-he hated being called pretty, he preferred more masculine adjectives, but he still blushed at the sassing flattery. He prodded my side in retaliation, and I yelped, but didn‘t start the wrestling match again, just thwapped his chest and replaced my head on it. He absentmindedly started stroking my hair, still chuckling over the amusement, so rare to follow a nightmare. I set to scritching the back of his neck, just as absentmindedly, while I mused over the dream to myself.
“Is it worth it?”, I thought. I hadn’t forgotten the last times that I’d interacted with dragons, before him, though the memories were faded. I remembered that it was dangerous, that I’d been betrayed. I remembered that what I had thought worthwhile, trustworthy, had proven to be anything but. I remembered no more, but it was enough to make me mistrustful of this dragon, this sleek pitch-purple being who seemed to be so honest and well intending. I usually knew with almost perfect accuracy when I was being lied to, and in what way…and this one gave off nothing of lies…nothing of dishonesty, nothing of intent to mislead, nothing more than telling me what he could at the time…leaving the rest to later. He could have hidden much, and misled me, but he laid himself bare. He told me what there was to tell at the time. That at least I could see.
But, all the same, I wondered. He was able to intrude upon my bath, the safeguards of which were nigh impossible to penetrate unless I permitted it. He did so without permission, intruding on a healing bath. How did he do that? It implied a more coercive bent to his actions…and I would wonder what he was hiding, and also what else he wanted of me. It would be much less reason to trust him, much more reason to think he was simply wanting to use me. Though for what, I could not say.
But, then there was the other option. Did he have help? Was the mirth that my lover hid behind his mask of thoughtful contemplation the mirth born of benign secret conspiring between the three, between him, his brother, and the dragon? He’d already proven he knew Rori well enough to identify him straight off…if he hadn’t, he’d not have been so hard-pressed to restrain the impish light in his eyes at my first request-my asking if he knew of any purple, shape shifting dragons. He would have instead been simply confused. The Brown knew how to get to me in that grove without my permission, he was the sole one who did, and could bring others with him if need be. It was a safety precaution, one set so that it was made sure that I was well through the bath, and one I always laid: he came to find me, should my bath pass a pre-determined length of time. He could have shown Rori how to get through, and simply not accompanied himself, if he judged Rori’s intent favorably enough. He was not one to put me in danger, not even chance it, not after the war we were finishing. Both he and I had almost died…we had had enough of danger for some time.
And I still suspected that the Shadowsong had been in on it, what with the shared conspirator’s grin between him and the Brown, just before I had been left to be petted to sleep like a cat with the prior, by the latter. The Shadowsong was even less willing to risk my safety than the Brown was, and I still did not know why he was so protective of me. If he was in on this, if he approved…it would likely mean that the Brown also did, though it would still require asking to be sure. It would also mean that it was quite likely that my paranoia was ill-placed. Hmm…was it worth it? Was the knowledge worth the risk? Hells, was the risk even there? I may well never have the chance to be taught the like again, and I never could resist the chance to expand my realm of arts and knowing. Maybe this time I should not fight the temptation to do so.
If the situation was truly as benign as it could be-if the Brown had let Rori in, if the three of them were conspirators looking to amuse themselves and give me a challenge and puzzle for me to enjoy, the watching of it for them to enjoy, with a prize of new-gained knowledge for me, and of the teaching of it for one and the pride of arranging it for the others…if teaching and possibly friendship was all that was wanted of me by the Irish Dragon… Maybe it really was worth the broach of paranoia and mistrust. I would try, I would ask further. The dragon was right-I would come to him.
Having made my decision-I would speak with the Brown and the Shadowsong more seriously over the matter, ask for their input before approaching Rori-and having heard a quite distant but protesting “Firedancer!“ from the Shadowstorm, I quickly started to come out of my self-made trance.
I found the Shadowsong squirming under my hand, making strange contorted faces and a bit red in the face. I got the distinct feeling that he’d been trying to speak to me about whatever was making him squirm so, more than I had heard, and had failed.
I arched my eyebrow at him, looking him over and making it obvious that I was referring to his interesting physical state. “Yes? What is it?”
He turned a deeper shade of red. “Ye…ye to be scritchin’…in…erm…a bit o’ the wrong places to be scritchin’…” He gave me a desperate look, seeming to hope that I didn’t need further explanation.
He turned an even deeper shade of red, apparently quite embarrassed. At his expression’s behest, I looked closer at him, absorbing more details of his reactions…and quickly got the point. We were dear friends, not lovers, and so I did not blame him for being embarrassed at my unintentionally rubbing his neck as one. I soon was equally embarrassed. Turning a shade of red to mirror his, I quickly retracted my hand. And while I remained sprawled on my side, I rearranged myself, discreetly but just as quickly, a few inches away. I was careful not to touch him. He sprawled, pretending to be relaxed, and stared at the ceiling, still embarrassed. I spent a bit too much time studying the embroidery on the pillow that had just reappeared under our sides, quiet and seeking a distraction from the awkwardness for some time before tentatively broaching speech again. “You knew.”
He looked at me then, eyebrows arched slightly in inquiry at the uncertain waver in my voice. A half amused, half compassionate smirk soon graced his face at the appearance in my own. I was still red and embarrassed, he was not. “Don’ to be worryin’ over it too much. Ye weren’ to be knowin’.” He grazed my cheek with his hand, and thought some before replying to my question. “Aye, ah was to be knowin’.” He didn’t offer more information, just continued watching me with his ever calm and steady green eyes, waiting for the further words he rightfully guessed would come.
I spent enough time sorting through my mind, using the distraction of the stitching on the pillow as a focus for calm, that he lightly squeezed my shoulder up by my neck. A silent inquiry, making sure I had not forgotten his question to sink back into my thoughts, masked with the smoothing of the ever-present knots in my shoulder. I didn’t answer at once, but after a short moment acceded to sigh, look up at him and answer. I didn’t want him further pestering me for focus, and he would if I took too long. “Would it be worth it?”
He didn’t need the rest of the questions. He didn’t need to hear me ask if it was safe, ask if the benefits would outweigh the detriments that always accompanied any gift. He didn’t need to hear me ask if this would be just one more to grow close to me in the teaching, whether or not it would be acknowledged during the while, only to abandon me when he got bored. He didn’t know my history and the source of my fear of dragons, but he did know the rest. And he could hear my tone, full of hope and fear and resignation to the latter. It was enough. He looked at me long, studying my eyes, contemplating. I never knew how he could keep his eyes so calm like that. I could look at them forever.
He nodded, slowly, his voice quiet, but certain. “Aye. Aye, it would to be bein’.” I could hear the answers to all my unasked questions writ in that simple answer, and in his eyes, calm and steady though they still were. I nodded back, saying nothing in reply, and I allowed a half smile to flit over my face. I was still uncertain, wishing to speak to the Brown, but I was in part relieved and reassured. Instinctively, despite the recent awkwardness between us, I edged near enough to him to press against his chest and wrap my hand under his wings. I stroked the feathers underneath, gently preening off some of the fluffy down he couldn’t get to. It was his molting season, after all, and I was one of the few he allowed to help preen his wings. He always did say I’d done well, and he sighed, almost purring, relaxing against me as I worked.
I was glad he had said that…that it was worth it. Glad that I had chosen to ask. Too often had I discarded priceless opportunities I could not get back thanks to my paranoid afterthoughts.
“An’ if ye not to be believing’ me, ye can ask him yerself.” I looked up quickly, surprised. I’d thought he’d finished with answering me; he never spoke much…and said more in what he left unsaid than with what he said. I was skilled at reading between lines, and it had been proven that I spoke his language well. It seemed I was wrong, this time. I found, when my eyes met his face, that while his voice was soft and gentle-rare, for him-his face, hard in protection and warning, did not match his tone, nor was his gaze on my face. He was looking over my head. I turned to lie on my back, shifting my wings so that they were flat and out of my view. When I looked behind me, I found the source of the unexpected words. Behind me, in the doorway, stood the very dragon I had asked of, indescribable look on his face in the doorway. And, two rooms away, stood the Brown, his strange expression too far away to read.