Friday, June 22, 2012

Dragon Knight

I made it through my first week of firefighter school without a single demerit! And I passed my first written test with flying colors. Go, me.

Jack did, too, but I expected him to do fine. He has always been a model employee. I’m the screwup.
I’m feeling like it, too. Jack has barely spoken a word to me all week. He sat on the other side of the class and partnered with someone else for all the physical stuff. He took his own separate car to work, and went out with Tamara afterward every single day.

Jack’s a great guy, the best, but I pushed him just a bit too far this time. It was that conversation with White Knight on Sunday that did it.

While Jack, Ma, and Brad went back to watching TV. Knight and I took a couple of glasses of iced tea to the library, a cozy room with a  fireplace that rarely gets used. It has floor to ceiling bookshelves covered in old leather bound books and weird stuff, glass eyes, windup panoramas that dance, shrunken heads from Africa. Vlad left most of his odd collection behind when he skipped town. Ostensibly, I’m supposed to be house-sitting, and eventually, he’ll come back and want his stuff. In reality, I suspect he’ll just collect new weird stuff wherever he settles next.

I sat down in an old-fashioned high backed leather chair with wings, and set my iced tea on a celtic knotwork coaster, to protect the antique carved mahogany table next to me. Living in Vlad’s house was a bit like living in a museum.

White Knight, aka Mark Novak, pushed Excalibur to the side in a practiced movement as he sat down. He looked distinctly uncomfortable. He sat on the edge of the seat like he might leap up and run away at any moment.

“So, did the trip to the hospital convince you to put the armor back on?” I asked him.

He downed half his tea. “Actually, it was something you said.”

“What did I say?”

“That a maniac was blowing up our city and I was needed.”

“You’d have to be Captain Oblivious not to have already noticed that.”

Novak cleared his throat and played with his tea glass. “Yeah, well, I was a little …”

“Self absorbed?”

“I was going to say pre-occupied, but yeah, self-absorbed fits.”

“Why are you here, Novak? You had to know Donovan wouldn’t exactly be glad to see you.” Donovan’s entire security team was killed by the Georgians Novak used to hang out with.

“Yeah, I um…” Novak drank some more tea. “I’m not entirely sure why I came.” He ran a hand through his sandy hair. It had grown out some, like he hadn’t bothered to cut it in a while. “Everything I’ve been taught about … what I am … I know it’s a lie, but I don’t know the truth.”

“You’re a dragon, Novak. It isn’t a dirty word.”

“Dragons have wings and fangs. They fly, change shape, things like that. I can’t do any of that. I guess I’ve been trying to figure out where I fit. When I put the armor on again, I felt a really strong urge to come see you, like you might have some of the answers I needed. I thought it must be guidance from the Lady of the Lake.”

“Thanks, grandmother, just what I needed,” I muttered. My grandmother, Lady Nyneve of Avalon, aka The Lady of the Lake, had voluntarily allowed her spirit to be trapped in the silver arms and armor that Novak wore as White Knight.

“My old mentor, Angus MacDougall, used to warn me to resist the evil influence of the dragon scale armor. He said that the scales that grew on me were contamination from wearing the armor too much, that I had to cut them out of my skin to keep the dragon spirit from taking me over.”

“That is seriously messed up. Those were your own scales.” I shuddered just thinking about Novak slicing his own scales off over the years, fearing "contamination."

“Yeah, I get that now. Even before, it seemed odd to me that not all the scales were silver like the armor.”

"Only females of the Silver clan get pure silver scales." It saddened me to think of Novak being raised to think his own heritage was evil. "MacDougall was one sick bastard.”

Novak’s jaw tightened and his back straightened. “MacDougall took me in, trained me, and paid for the operation to make me look more normal.”

“He used you. He mutilated you and taught you to hate your own kind. He had to have known you were a dragon, Novak. Only someone with dragon blood of the same line as King Arthur can wield your weapons.”

Novak looked like he was going to argue with me some more, then he just deflated. “I know.” He shrank into the high backed chair. “MacDougall always kept his distance. But he was the closest to a father I ever had.” Novak’s voice broke a little. “I was devastated when Fafnir the Red killed him. Then when I finally faced my mentor’s murderer, I failed to avenge him. I disappointed him one last time.”

“I’m sorry.” I drank a little tea, the icy sweetness soothing my closing throat. “I know what it’s like to have your father murdered.”

Novak’s eyes met mine, and looked down. “It’s not the same. MacDougall wasn’t my father. He never let me call him that.” He fiddled with his tea glass, staring at the swirling liquid like it might tell him something. “That’s why I came.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I need to … to know where I belong. I want to know who my father was. If he was a dragon, he might even still be alive. If he was human, perhaps his other children or grandchildren are alive. They would be my cousins.”

“Oh.” I only knew what little I knew about Novak’s ancestry from my telepathic grandmother’s spirit sending me pictures while I was wearing his armor. “But I don’t know anything about your father.”

“I need to know anything you can tell me about my family.”

“Well, um …” I thought about what I knew. “Your mom had some Green and Silver clan blood, same as my dad. At least, her great grandfather, Sir Gawain did.” And that was it. I paced the library a little, not wanting to look at Novak’s big, pleading eyes. The guy was going through a really bad time, and I didn’t know anything that was likely to help. “Beyond that, I don’t know if your mother was mostly dragon, pure dragon, or mostly human. I don’t know anything about your dad at all, not even if he was human or dragon.”

I risked a glance at Novak. He looked as disappointed as I expected.

“The Lady of the Lake sent me to you for answers. I thought, maybe …” he shrugged in defeat. “Thank you for the tea, in any case. And for not letting your security man shoot me in the face.” He stood up.

“Hang on. Don’t give up that easy. Just let me think.” Maybe I could figure out more from Novak himself. “If you hadn’t cut out your scales as they appeared, how much of your body would they cover now?”

“About half.”

“That tells me something. You’re close to the same age I was before I got accelerated. I was only about a third covered then, and I’m a little more than half dragon. If you’re half covered, that means you have more dragon blood than I do.”

That raised his eyebrows. “I’m more dragon than you are?”

“Yes. That makes it very likely that your father was a dragon!” I grinned, delighted with my little bit of detective work. “What kind of venom do you have? Healing or paralysis?” Greens had healing venom. Silvers and the sons of Silvers usually had paralysis venom.

“Venom?” Novak looked confused.

“From your fangs.” Novak was really dense sometimes.

“I don’t have fangs.”

“What do you mean you don’t have fangs? Did MacDougall have them pulled or something?”

“I’ve never had fangs.”

So much for my theory that he was mostly dragon. “But you had wings when you were a kid. I saw the scars where they were cut off.”

“Yeah. They never worked or anything, but I had them.”

“You were too young. Wings take time to mature. Just like your feet and scales, they change with time. But all dragons have fangs except …” It occurred to me, finally, that him being mostly dragon, but not having fangs was a clue.


“Novak, you said that not all your scales were silver.”

“Yeah, I stopped cutting them out after … that day. Some of them grew back, and a few new ones have come in. Only a few of them, on my pecs, belly and shoulder are silver. Those scales are bigger.”

“Let me see.”

Novak set his tea glass down, peeled off his gauntlets. He skinned his mail shirt off over his head to reveal his beautifully muscled chest. The mind scrambling spicy scent of male dragon filled the room. I managed not to shove him down on the floor and ravish him. It was an effort, though. It might be easier to resist that scent if it didn't come in such an amazing package. Knight's habit of saving lives and fighting the good fight, and the way he moved like a hunting wolf, all added up to make keeping my hands to myself an extreme effort of will.

Knight stared at me, his breathing a little heavy. He didn't make a move either, but I think his brain fought the same battle with hormones that mine did just then. And maybe more than hormones. Nah. Just hormones. It was Knight after all.

I already have a wonderful boyfriend, I told myself. Think of Jack. I pictured Jack's quirky smile in my mind, the feel of his arm around me when we cuddled, the tingle his fingertips made when he ran them across my scales. Um. No. That wasn't helping.

Scales sprinkled Knight's side and shoulder like spots of scarlet blood and shiny coins on the edges of the mass of scars. I remembered why he took his shirt off in the first place.

I gave in to part of my impulses and touched one of his shiny new red scales. It was smooth and cool. The feel of it under my fingers made my pulse race.

Knight inhaled sharply.

I cleared my throat, so I could speak normally. “Red clan. You have Red clan somewhere close in your lineage. The Reds are the only clan that have no fangs or venom. They breathe fire.”

“Are you saying that I can breathe fire?” Novak looked simultaneously horrified and a little intrigued by the idea.

I put some distance between us. The books on the other side of the library seemed terribly fascinating right then. “I have no idea. A lot of dragon abilities come with age. So, maybe in a few centuries, you’ll be able to breathe fire if you can’t now.”

Novak chuckled. “I can’t say that I’ve ever tried. Or would have a clue how to go about it.”

“If it’s anything like flying, you don’t want to learn by trial and error." I faced him and made sure he knew I was very serious. "That will get you killed. You need another dragon to teach you.”

Novak ran his hand through his hair, eyes on the floor. Shyly, he asked, “Can you teach me?” God, the man was adorable when he wasn’t being a royal pain.

I thought about how nervous I’d been when I asked Vlad to teach me how to deal with the sudden acceleration of my dragon nature. Vlad had had good reasons to say no. But if he had said no, I probably would be dead now. I owed him a tremendous debt. Not only was turning Novak down like kicking a wounded puppy, but I felt like a traitor to dragonkind as well. “I’m sorry. I can’t breathe fire. You need a Red clan dragon to teach you that. If you had wings, I could teach you to fly, but …” I shrugged apologetically.

Novak sat back down again, looking even more defeated. “I don’t understand why the Lady of the Lake sent me here.”

I slapped myself in the forehead. “Duh. I’m being stupid." Dragon hormones and sensible thinking don't mesh all that well. "I'll just ask her. Give me your gauntlet.” I slipped it on, and felt a familiar warm presence. “So, Grandmother, what can you tell me about Novak’s family?”

Images flowed into my head, the same as before, the chain of Novak’s ancestors, from Sir Gawain, my grandmother’s nephew, down to Mark Novak’s mother. This time, the pictures showed me two things I hadn’t known before. I saw Novak’s mother as a young dragon, flying off a chalk white cliff over the ocean. She was huge, as big as Lady Nyneve. No human blood there. “Your mom was all dragon, a Silver, like my grandmother.”

Beside the Silver, an equally huge red and black dragon flew wingtip to wingtip with her, teaching her as Vlad had taught me. The other dragon looked painfully familiar. I knew that if that was who I thought it was, it was really going to be hard on Novak. I thought hopefully to my grandmother, Is there more than one giant half Red clan, half Black clan dragon in the world?

Grandmother answered by shifting the images in my head. The two great dragons landed. They changed to human form and embraced, giddy with the joy of a first successful flight. The red-bearded giant of a man was unmistakable.                        

I swallowed, screwed up my courage and faced the adolescent dragon who had been raised to hate all that he was. “You’re pure dragon, no human blood at all. And I know who your father is.”

“Is he alive?” The hope in Novak’s eyes was painful to look at. Mark Novak had always been unwanted. Even the man who took him in had secretly despised him. Now, he had living family. But it was the last person on earth he would have chosen.

“Yeah. He’s alive.”

Novak grabbed my arms like he wanted to shake the information out of me. “Tell me. Who is he? Where can I find him?”

I took a deep breath, and said what had to be said. “Fafnir is your father.”

Novak staggered back a step, like I’d hit him. “That … that can’t be right.” He went to sit down as the chair hit the back of his knees and missed. He landed on his butt on the floor.

There wasn’t anything I could say. The first time I’d met Fafnir, White Knight had been trying like hell to kill him, not caring if it cost his own life to do it. Avenging his mentor’s murder was more important to Novak than breathing. Mark Novak had been taught that Fafnir the Red was evil incarnate, the worst of the worst, a monster who had slaughtered thousands of innocents.

I went down on one knee next to Novak and put a hand on his broad scarred shoulder, my thumb stroking his skin. “Fafnir’s not the monster you thought he was.”

“It’s a mistake.” His eyes begged me to tell him it wasn’t true.

“Fafnir probably doesn’t even know, himself, but Lady Nyneve wouldn’t lie to us.”

“He hates me,” Novak whispered. I recognized despair, the same look on his face he'd had when he asked me not to save him.

Novak’s opinion of Fafnir wasn’t the issue to him. Novak had been despised by the only father figure he’d known. Now, he had a real father, but he would still be despised.

I hugged him. I couldn’t see that much pain and not want to help. “He doesn’t know you. Not really.” I pulled Novak’s head against my chest and stroked his hair. He wrapped his arms around my waist. “Give him a chance. I’m sure once Fafnir knows the kind of man that you are, he will be proud to …”

The door opened right then, with me all snuggled up on the floor with a half naked Knight.

Jack said, “Dee, come on. They’re re-running that Doctor Who episode you ...” Jack took in the scene. His jaws tightened and his eyes narrowed to tiny slits. “Right. Sorry I interrupted.” He slammed the library door.
I yelled at him. “Wait, Jack. It’s not what you think!” I chased after him.

Jack ignored me, went straight to his room, and slammed the door in my face.

He hasn’t spoken to me since.

D Dragon

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