nefhiriel: (Cold Bush)
[personal profile] nefhiriel
 Here's the final installment of the story. Sorry it took so long, I've had a lot of things going on (including another weekend babysitting my little great-niece, Elle!). ;)

***

Ach. You daft creature—hold still, or I'll fetch that Regal Copper to sit on yer head.”

Coming within sight of the clearing, Horatio was just in time to catch a plaintive moan from Argentian. The dragon was on its side, ruff flattened in an aggrievement, but wing obediently lifted to allow access to... Horatio stopped mid-step at the sight of the ugly rakes: cuts made by dragon claws, slashed from the Argentian's shoulder and going some length across his right side.

“Argentian...”

The dragon turned its head automatically at Horatio's voice, and the open expression of guilt was all the confirmation he needed.

“Why did you not say something earlier? I specifically asked you if you had received injury.”

Argentian lowered his head to rest on the grass, eyes turned upwards in a manner indeed sorry, and truly pitiful to behold. “I...forgot.”

“You forgot?” Horatio reiterated in disbelief. “How could you forget...this?” He gesturing to the wound.

“I am...sorry.”

“Aye, that you are,” agreed Glenn in his thick Scottish brogue. “A sorry creature, and an even sorrier mess you make o' yerself more often than not.”

Horatio had only met Doctor Glenn on a few occasions. He'd come with Argentian, one of the members of Argentian's crew that had Horatio had retained. He recalled now the hesitant yet earnest request Argentian had made on the doctor's behalf—and something told Horatio that this scenario before him was an all too familiar one.

“Don't you worry yerself, Captain,” Glenn continued, taking a cloth from a nearby assistant who stood by with an assortment of the doctor's supplies. “He'll do nicely, when I'm finished with him.”

Horatio nodded his thanks and, though there were plenty of hot words for Argentian on the tip of his tongue, he bit them back for the time being, letting the doctor do his work.

Argentian, for his part, lay languidly penitent, with not a further whimper of complaint.

“There, now,” Glenn said, after he'd finished his ministrations, and stood back to survey his work. “You'll mend all right, you great hulking idiot. Just see to it that ye give yerself the time to do so.”

“Yes, Doctor,” Argentian acquiesced humbly, gingerly lowering his wing.

“Captain, may I have a word?”

They moved out of earshot, and Glenn began with: “He is a great hulking idiot on occasion, Captain.”

“But?”

Glenn's expression softened. “But I think you should know that, additionally, the daft creature's got a mind like bloody hound dog. Give him a smell o' the fox—the call o' duty—an' he doesn't hear a sound, nor smell anythin' but that fox, until the chase is over.”

“You're saying he did forget--that he 'forgets' this sort of thing often?”

Glenn sighed. “He learn't it from Captain Windamere. No disrespect to the man's memory, but he was as stubborn as an ox when it came to owning to an injury. He an' that dragon o' yers were cut from the same stone.” He shook his head. “Drove me right mad, between the two o' them—neither one feelin' the need to say a word, though they might very well be knockin' on death's door. But I'll tell you one thing, Captain: there wasn't a need for the wastin' o' words between them. They understood one another plenty with a look.” A faint smile touched the man's lips. “They'd tell on each other is what they'd do, Captain. I came to rely on the one knowing more o' the other's condition than they themselves either knew of their own state o' health.”

“I see.”

“Now don't look so down on yerself, Captain. Some dragons take more figurin' out than others—and that's our Argentian for sure.” Glenn smiled encouragingly. “But he's taken to you in special way, like I never thought t' see him do with another captain. You're his captain now, an' he won't forget it ever. He won't betray yer trust, neither, Captain—though he may give you plenty o' gray hairs from worryin' over his sorry hide, which he seems so keen t' injure.”

“I don't suppose there's anything else I aught know about this complicated business of understanding and keeping alive the daft idiot creature I find myself responsible for?” Horatio asked, finding his anger, despite all efforts, evaporating to give way to mere exasperation, and some bewilderment.

“Lord, Sir, if I knew everything there was tell about Argentian that would be something.” This time, Glenn's smile was less reassuring. “But that's your place, Captain.”

Thank God, seemed to be Glenn's unspoken addendum. And Horatio thought in response: Dear God... He's right. It was his place—and quite the job he'd made of it.

After Glenn had gone, Horatio stood a while considering his words. None came—and he realized that, when it came to Argentian, planned speeches had never worked for him in the past, so there was no reason to expect they would now.

In the end, it was Argentian who had been premeditating what he would say, and said it all in a passionate outburst most unusual for him.

“Captain, it was wrong of me not to say something, and I am sorry, only I did forget that I'd been injured, and...really...it only stung a very little. I did not realize it needed Doctor Glenn's care at all, or I would have informed him much sooner.” The dragon had sat up while Horatio had been gone, but his head drooped in such a forlorn way that—combined with the heart-felt words—made it impossible to stay angry at him. “I...I shall inform him, next time,” Argentian finished resolutely, with a small stammer.

Horatio had never heard a dragon stammer, probably because he was so used to Brisies, always burbling over with so much joy that her words were far more likely to ram into each other than ever leave a gap between. The lapse was strangely endearing coming from Argentian: an involuntary vulnerability in the dragon's iron-clad formality.

You,” Horatio said, with as much firmness as he could muster, “shall inform me the next time you are injured. Straight away.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“And furthermore, if, at some point in the future, I tell you that Doctor Glenn needs to assess you for possible injury, I want no debate. You are allowed to forget, Argentian, but you are not allowed to go off and die on me without so much as a by-your-leave.”

The blue eyes widened in true horror, despite the teasing edge of Horatio's words. “Oh, I would not have died, Horatio. I promise I would not have. I have almost died before, twice, and if I had felt at all like I did then, I should have told you at once.”

Horatio reached out to place his hand upon the dark blade of scales on Argentian's now close muzzle, stroking upwards gently. Far from displaying his usual reticence, if anything, Argentian leaned into it, like a purring cat who wants its chin scratched.

“I know you would have, my dear, which is why I find it impossible to be upset with you.” Horatio would not mention the part those solemn eyes, regarding him so attentively, were playing in ruining his temper, either.

They stood like that for several minutes, before Horatio asked, softly, “May I ask you something, Argentian?”

“Anything, Captain.”

“Is it...very hard to serve another captain when you have already had one before that was dear to you?” He did not ask out of a desire to be flattered. After what Glenn had said about Windamere, he wished honestly to know, and found he feared the answer.

“I thought, once, it might be,” Argentian confessed, then paused to nudge Horatio's hand, for he had ceased the stroking motion as he listened to the dragon's reply. When Horatio had resumed, Argentian finished, with the simplicity of dragon reasoning: “But that was before I had met my second captain.”

***

Despite his injury, Argentian insisted they were not enough to stop him from training in formation, and a reluctant Glenn agreed that there was no reason to forbid him.

They spent much of the next morning in training with the formation, Pellew introducing several new maneuvers that were rigorous enough to leave Argentian ravenous for his mid-day meal.

“I do not believe I have eaten so much at one time since I was a growing hatchling,” Argentian commented afterwards to Horation, licking the blood from his chops with ironic delicacy considering he had all but devoured the sheep whole. He sounded somewhat perplexed by the amout he had consumed.

“I think you have earned it,” Horatio returned, mildly.

Argentian considered that, than gave a small discontented shake of his ruff. “But you see I was so certain I had it calculated precisely...”

“Had calculated...what precisely?”

“What sustenance I require in direct correlation to the miles I have flown. I have traveled much further and needed much less. Perhaps,” Argentian wondered, “I have gorged myself to an unseemly degree.”

Horatio might have laughed, had he not come to recognize that Argentian took this sort of worry quite seriously. “Not a bit,” he assured instead. “On occasion, I have been known to eat very large portions indeed. It is not a science, you know—eating. ”

“Is it not?”

Horatio couldn't help a small smile. “Are you sure you couldn't eat another sheep?”

Captain,” Argentian remonstrated.

“A jest, my dear,” Horatio explained.

“Ah.” Argentian's clarity was short-lived. “Then...if I had eaten one more, that would have been gorging myself?”

Horatio closed his eyes briefly in tolerant exasperation. “Come along, Argentian.”

The afternoon was spent in drills with the ground crew and it was growing late by the time they were finished—but per this instructions, Kennedy came hurrying up to hand Horatio the package Horatio had entrusted him with.

“Be so good as to have the men wait a moment, Mister Kennedy.”

“Aye, Sir.” Kennedy saluted, a boyish gleam of enthusiasm in his eyes as he turned to order the crew to stand by and assemble.

“Captain,” Argentian spoke quietly, watching the proceedings with clear confusion, “I think they have performed admirably, have they not?”

“Indeed they have.” Horatio inclined his head—then, seeing the men were standing ready and listening, raised his voice to include them in the audience. “A crews' moral can not help but be raised by the bravery of their dragon.”

It was an understatement. Several of the crew—prominently including Orrock, Matthews, and Styles—were looking ready to break out in cheering.

Horatio proceeded to unwrap the brown paper from the box he held. “Though I am in no position to grant you an official commendation, Argentian, I hope the commendation of your crew, and of your captain, is not a mean honor—nor this small token in recognition of your valor.”

As he spoke, he ceremoniously produced the “token” he and Kennedy had belabored to select. It was as close an approximation to the description of Argentian's much coveted medallion as they'd been able to procure.

Argentian stared at the large, silver medallion dangling from its sturdy chain—and Horatio needed no more confirmation of success than the look of almost tender admiration in the dragon's wide eyes.

“It is...for me?” Argentian asked, tone all wonder.

“All yours, my dear, and rightfully earned by your selfless bravery yesterday.”

“I was only doing what had to be done.” Argentian's demurral was heart-felt. Nonetheless he remained fixated on the glinting object in his captain's hand.

“Aye, and you did it well. May I?”

After but a feeble pause, Argentian lowered his head, flattening his ruff so that the chain slid easily over his neck.

Horatio stood back proudly to observe the effect, relieved he'd had the chain made the correct size. The medallion rested just right at Argentian's breastbone, and the silver against the dragon's tan and blue coloring was ideal.

“Let's have it now, men,” called Matthews, “three cheers for Argentian.”

As the men raucously obeyed, Argentian looked first started and unseure, than pleased, and—Horatio liked to think—quite regal with the medal glinting at his chest.

At a nod from Horatio, Kennedy then dismissed the men, leaving captain and dragon alone in the clearing.

“Do I not perhaps look just a little...ridiculous? I mean no disrespect to the honor itself, but it is very bright and beautiful.”

Horatio nearly had a few words for Argentian, then, about pride and having an overactive preoccupation with ones self-image. But he found he did not say them.

“Argentian, my dear,” coming closer, Horatio leaned his shoulder against the dragon's side, looking up into the Argentian's affirmation-seeking gaze as the dragon swiveled his head towards him, “I have never in all my life known a dragon more suited.”

Argentian rumbled contentedly at the answer, and Horatio wondered that he had ever wanted any other dragon.

***

The End
 
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