Galvarys flew long after the moonlight fled the impending dawn. The darkness was a comfort to the dragon, an ebon cloak that helped shroud him from those who would shoot him from the skies. Despite his truce with the Five Villages, his enemies were many. No matter what kindness he might deign to show the villagers who dwelt upon his lands, men still tried to slay him. Some enemies were borne of his deeds. Others hated the very blood that flowed through his veins. There were always those who would never call a dragon friend. To them, dragons were nothing more than evil given flesh, worthy only of being purged from their world.
It was not Galvarys’ fault that he was bigger than they were, or that his hide was iron compared to their soft bodies. He had not deigned to be hatched with claws and teeth and spines, nor possessed of fire hotter than any they could hope to kindle. Galvarys was proud to be a dragon. He would not hesitate to use his natural gifts to defend his life and lands and take what was rightfully his.
Why waste his time bowing his head to the humans when they would seek to slay him anyway?
Dragons were not built for kindness. Dragons were built for conquest, built to be remembered as legends when they were gone. It had been far too long since this world remembered a legendary dragon. They certainly did not remember his muddled bloodline. But they would remember Galvarys the Wrathful. Galvarys, eldest of Ayvyrial. Galvarys, who owned all the land he could see. Galvarys, who forged a truce with men. Galvarys, who…
Damn. He needed something else to end that. The dragon snorted, licking his nose as he circled his home. Galvarys, who…had a taste for ham. True, but hardly suitable to be passed along as legend. Galvarys, whose mighty thrusts made the females moan and plead for more. Also true, but not something humans would remember him by. Galvarys, who had a girl that hurled a goblet at his head.
Actually, perhaps he could work with that. The dragon spoke aloud as he flew. “Galvarys, a beast so legendary even his minion was remembered.”
Yes, minion. He should start calling Elyra that. Kings had servants. Galvarys was no king, but he was a legend. Legends had minions. Or was that villains? Didn’t matter. Galvarys wouldn’t mind being some grand villain in a children’s tale. So long as he was the one with the happy ending.
Galvarys did not want to die, battered and broken, at the foot of some desolate mountain. Bleeding everywhere. Struggling for fading breath as the humans…
Galvarys shook his head, hissing. No.
He’d sooner fold his wings and hurl himself against the bottom of his canyon.
Galvarys had not realized how long he’d been out until he spotted the first hints of purple gloom upon the dark horizon. After the dragon left Elyra he’d ventured near one of his villages and helped himself to a few sheep belonging to some foolish old farmer. Then he’d flown a safe distance, found himself a secluded glen, and dozed beneath the starlight. His dreams were amorphous and when he woke he could not recall them. They’d nonetheless left a creeping unease that oozed along his spine, and sat cold in his belly.
The dragon often took to flying to clear his mind. Galvarys always enjoyed flying at night. Aside from the simple fact he felt more secure when he was nothing but a silhouette against the stars, he loved the peace that came with nighttime. Quiet and still, the whole world bathed in blue-black and silver-gray. Even in the darkest nights there was scarcely a shadow the dragon’s eyes could not penetrate.
No wonder dragons were the greatest predator. With all their natural gifts, they could survive in any climate they had to. Surely, dragons were the greatest creatures in the entire world. They even lived longer than all the lesser species. At least, they lived longer when no one murdered them.
Their long lifespan was a blessing and a curse. If dragons could breed faster, there might be more left soaring in the skies. But long lives meant long life cycles. Their hatchlings grew swiftly by the standards of dragons, but that still left them with many years of youthful vulnerability. And caring for hatchlings left parents vulnerable too. It was a risk a dragon did not always wish to take. Especially the males.
Galvarys snarled, baring his fangs. Galvarys understood that fear, in a way. After all, the point of living was to stay alive as long as possible, and ensure you were remembered. Yet was it worth being remembered if you were only recalled as a coward? Galvarys once knew such a coward. There was even a time he looked up to him, wished he were around more often. That was before Galvarys realized what a festering sore of a fear-bound liar his father was.
Galvarys hissed, pushing the thoughts aside as he headed home. No reason to dwell on those best forgotten.
The dragon eased his wings closer to his body, descending as he neared his fortress. May as well curl up amidst his soft things and get a little more sleep before the sun shattered the horizon and the damn birds began their obnoxious chirping. Galvarys swooped in low over his mesa and touched down upon the grass inside the old courtyard. He sniffed around a moment, unable to find the scent of anyone besides himself and his minion. Good.
The dragon padded inside, glancing around his treasure chamber. The light stones cast everything in a soothing, pale blue hue. Elyra had moved things around. She’d swept the coins and gems from the floor into piles that glittered and glowed in the spectral light. Elyra had also pushed some of the more obtrusive boxes and chests out of the way where she could and cleared a path. Looked as though she’d found a few boxes filled with clothing and dug through them. A few garments were laid out across crates.
Peering around, Galvarys spotted the boxes Elyra brought with her. They were all opened. Elyra herself lay near one of the walls. She’d taken a few of the dragon’s blankets from his sleeping chamber and spread them out across the floor. Then she’d hunkered down inside her own weird, rolled-up blanket thing she’d brought. She’d borrowed a pillow designed to look like the sun from his collection. Her crimson hair spilled across it in fiery streams, tangling with its golden tassels.
Quiet as he could, he padded through the treasure chamber towards her, intent on peering into the boxes to see what gifts she’d brought him. Peeking inside provided more questions than answers. There were little jars of things and bundles of dried plants. A few bars of something that smelled like flowers and boiled fat. He sniffed around, picking up the scents of dried meats and fish from another box. Inside he saw rolls of parchment tied with string, no doubt holding food. Scents both sweet and pungent wafted from the box. Treats for him, he was sure. Another box had books, rolls of parchment, some big feathers.
None of them seemed like especially nice gifts, but at least his minion tried. Her own pack lay open near her makeshift bed but Galvarys doubted she had anything of interest in there, either. Elyra looked quite peaceful in her slumber. She was not shivering, so her bed-thing clearly provided suitable warmth. The dragon stepped past her, careful not to knock anything over. Hopefully Elyra would not rise and wake him early. He’d slept a while under the stars but certainly did not feel rested.
In the hallway to his sleeping chamber, his folded wings brushed the stone. It felt cold and rough upon the sensitive blue membranes. He tightened his wings, glancing at the floor. Old lines and gouges marred the stone. Some of them came from his claws, but many were older. Galvarys thought back to when he’d first found this place, unable to recall any lingering dragon-scent. He tossed his head and nearly banged it on the ceiling again.
Galvarys grumbled. He tossed a few hides over the light stones, plunging the room into near darkness. The dragon had no trouble seeing in the faint, steely light that emanated from the hallway leading to his treasure chamber. Galvarys glanced around for the tapestry that once sheathed his blood-stained reminder. The memory made him cringe and pin his spines, but he’d put it behind him again soon enough. When he saw Elyra had tugged the tapestry back where it belonged, he smiled.
“Good girl.” The dragon curled up atop the thickest portion of his mountain of bedding. “You shall make a fine minion.”
Galvarys lay his head upon his spined tail, and draped his wings over himself. The dragon was asleep before his next breath.
Elyra woke with the dawn. Much as she’d rather sleep in, a lifetime spent rising with the sunrise was difficult to overcome. At least now she could laze about in her bedroll and wait for the dragon to call her to attend whatever servant duties he might dream up. A dragon. She served a dragon now. Elyra had expected her first few mornings here to be hazy and confusing. She thought she’d find herself groping about for the edges of her thin bed, for the curtain that was her only wall.
Yet Elyra had already fought through that confusion on her way to the dragon’s hill. Even the simple inn rooms she slept in during her travels seemed extravagant. When she woke in them it took her groggy mind a few moments to remember where she was. That was not the case now. The moment she opened her eyes in Galvarys’ fortress, saw the soft blue light cast across the vine-carved columns around her, the glittering of valuable treasure and the piles of junk, Elyra knew where she was.
She was home.
Home was a fortress with a cranky, egotistical dragon, and she could not be happier.
Elyra sat up, unable to suppress a bubbling laugh. She lived with a dragon. From servant wench and slave whore to dragon’s assistant in a matter of weeks. The laughter burst from her lips and echoed around the room, fueled by a happy sort of disbelief. Elyra clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. She did not wish to wake the slumbering dragon. When Galvarys did not emerge, angry at being so rudely awoken, she let out a silent sigh.
Elyra rose, still clad in her golden dress. When the village first gave it to her, it was pristine and flawless and only a day later, it was torn, dirtied, and wrinkled. They told her the dragon liked gold, and that proved to be true. Yet he didn’t seem to care about the dress, and neither did Elyra. Not that she didn’t enjoy wearing dresses, but she was looking forward to choosing her own clothing.
Back in the Hall, she had no clothes of her own. They gave her uniforms to wear, and the only time she wore anything else was when one of the nobles had some fantasy he wished fulfilled. Once, she had to bite her tongue to keep from pointing out that “warrior girls” would not wear such revealing outfits because they’d be cut to pieces. When she cast off this dress she’d never put it back on unless the dragon decided otherwise.
Elyra knew the sort of thing she’d like to wear, if the dragon allowed it. She hoped he’d even let her pick something out from the village. Till then, she’d dug out a few suitable outfits from his hoard. Hopefully he would not mind her going through his belongings. Not like the dragon would make use of his collected clothing.
Where did a dragon get so much clothing, anyway? Most of it was moldering and moth-eaten, but the contents of one crate seemed almost new. Maybe he’d raided a merchant convoy and found blouses and breeches instead of gold. Silly dragon probably took it just to save face. Perhaps the garments were tribute, proclaimed to be the finest silks and cloth in all the land, when in fact they were common and cheap.
Not that he’d know any better. Part of Elyra wanted to tell the old beast half his tributes were worthless. The rest of her was afraid of his ensuing anger. She imagined a dragon might throw the same sort of petulant temper tantrum as a furious noble. Yet instead of a poor servant getting whipped with a belt, some village might burn down. She’d better break it to him gently. Or better yet, she could just tell the villages that now the dragon had someone who understood the value of things.
Or perhaps she’d just let him bask in the glory of his collection of wooden plates and street corner tunics while she giggled behind his back.
Elyra strolled into the front courtyard of the old fortress. The air was cool, scented heavily with the sweetness of morning dew. Sunlight crept down the nearby mountains, painting their stony slopes gold. Coils of mist swirled in the distance, dancing along the edges of the mesa. Sunrise bathed the high, wispy clouds in layers of pink and orange. Birds warbled beautiful songs from the clusters of trees scattered around the mesa. Elyra slowly turned in place, letting the dew wet her bare feet. This place was more beautiful than she could have ever imagined.
Elyra settled upon the damp grass, leaned up against a stone wall and stared up at the sky. She felt free. She smiled as she watched the colors change with the sunrise. Pink turned to red, orange turned to golden sunlight. When the sunrise was complete, the sky itself was a beautiful blue, deep and clear. Today, she would reach that sky on the back of a dragon. It seemed the ultimate culmination of all her desires as she imagined the feeling of freedom, of independence. Already she could almost feel the wind through her hair. She couldn’t wait.
Oh, she hoped Galvarys didn’t sleep in too late. She wanted to fly. Her belly knotted in delightful anticipation. Still, she wouldn’t wake the beast on her own. It would be very bad manners, especially on her first day as his assistant. She liked the sound of dragon’s assistant better than dragon’s servant.
Elyra watched the skies till hunger drew her attention. She pushed herself back to her feet, dusted off her rump and headed inside to the boxes she’d brought with her. Elyra untied the parchment around a package of dried and salted fish, and quickly eased the gnawing in her belly. Simple as it was, it still made a pleasant change from a thin bowl of gruel every morning.
When she was finished eating, Elyra picked out her clothing. A dress hardly seemed appropriate for riding a dragon, so she dug some trousers and a blouse out of the crate of clothes not yet claimed by moths and mold. The simple black leather trousers were not a perfect fit, but comfortable, and would help protect her from the dragon’s hide. She also selected a long-sleeved blouse in a lovely shade of blue with silver threading along the sleeves. She fetched a bar of soap from one of her boxes, and headed for the tub.
The dragon’s sleeping chamber was darker than expected so Elyra paused to let eyes adjust. She didn’t want to step on anything sharp. Or the dragon. In the darkness, she listened to the dragon’s breathing. Instead of a fortress-rattling snore, it was soft and slow. Elyra took two breaths for every one the slumbering dragon took.
Once she could see, Elyra slipped through the dragon’s sleeping chamber. Galvarys was curled upon his so-called bed with his spiral-horned head resting on his tail, with his wings shrouding his body. He reminded her of a noble’s cat, curled and content. In the near darkness, the dragon looked a single shade of blue-black. His front paw twitched.
It was nice to know even dragons could look peaceful.
There was plenty of illumination in the bathing room. Sunlight spilled through the arched exit and broken windows. Come winter, they’d have to put up some blankets to keep out the cold. Maybe the dragon would let her have a few stoves. Elyra set her soap on some white tile not obscured by moss, and laid her clean clothes where they’d stay dry. Then she stripped off her scuffed and dirty golden dress. As she looked for a place to climb into the tub, her bladder complained.
Elyra reached for her dress, hesitating. Why put it on just to go outside and hike it back up? Besides, she’d still have more privacy on this mesa than back in the servant’s quarters. Elyra smiled, striding naked into the back courtyard. The feeling of cool morning air against so much bare skin made her shiver. A patch of sunlight felt lovely and warm. She’d heard whispers and rumors of people…normal people…who enjoyed swimming in the nude or lying in the sun. She could almost see why. When her bladder was empty she headed back inside, fetched her soap, and looked for a good place to climb into the tub.
A set of large stone steps descended into the water. Elyra eased down them on her rump to avoid slipping on the moss. The water was cool and Elyra dunked herself to help adjust. She ran her hands through her hair, then popped back up out of the water. Droplets sprayed as she tossed her head, sodden red strands flying about her face.
Elyra scowled. She hadn’t brought any washcloths or towels. Perhaps she could get some from the village, but for now she’d make do with soap alone. Elyra went to the fountain at the head of the tub, and rubbed the soap between her hands in the cascading water. The soap’s flowery aroma tinted the air as froth and bubbles rolled across the bath. Elyra hummed to herself, and worked the soap against her skin.
Elyra tapped a soapy finger around her rounded chin in thought. Tiny bubbles dribbled down her skin. The old stairs made it clear the fountain had always served as tub, but why was it so large? Had they built it for a dragon slave? Or had the dragon been an ally? Hell, maybe the humans were the slaves. Or maybe it wasn’t a dragon…
“Why does it smell like flowers in here?” Galvarys’ voice startled Elyra from her thoughts.
Elyra jumped. The soap shot from her hand and skidded across the tile. The sound of the fountain had covered the dragon’s approach. Galvarys stood with half his body protruding from the archway, peering around the room. His indigo nostrils flexed. His eyes settled on Elyra, and the soapy froth surrounding her.
“What have you done to my water?” The dragon narrowed his silver eyes.
Elyra’s heartbeat quickened for a few breaths. “I’ve worked some soap into your bathing tub.”
The dragon cocked his spiral-horned head, staring at her. “I do not understand.” The dragon hissed, padding towards her, his tail lashing.
Elyra covered her breasts with her arms. “Soap is something we use to help get clean, and we infuse it with pleasant scents. Like flowers.” She smiled at him. “If you’re going to bathe when I’m done, I’ll leave the soap so you can get cleaned too.”
Galvarys gazed down at her. His silver eyes were bloodshot, his ears and spines hung limp around his head. The dragon looked groggy as hell. “I do not wish to smell like flowers.” He snorted. “That is a female aroma.” Then he glanced around as if worried some female dragon overheard. “A female human aroma.”
“Then perhaps the Azure Wrath will allow me to entertain him while he waits for the soapy water to drain out.” Elyra grinned up at him.
A smirk erased some of the dragon’s grogginess. “The Azure Wrath appreciates that you remembered his name.” He stepped to the edge of the tub. “But I have not had enough sleep. I shall bathe now to help rouse myself.”
“But I’m in here!” Elyra’s eyes widened. He didn’t mean to--
“And I suggest you move aside.” The dragon stepped down into the tub in a few quick strides.
Waves of cold, frothy water rolled away from the submerging dragon and sloshed over Elyra’s head. She backed up to the edge of the tub where white-bubbled waves crashed against the mossy tiles. When the dragon shifted, leathery wings and pebbly scales brushed her bare skin. Elyra squirmed while the dragon made himself comfortable.
“There.” The dragon grinned. “See? Plenty of room for both of us.” He dunked his head with a splash, rubbing his muzzle beneath the water. He smirked when he emerged. “I don’t know what--AH! My eyes!”
“Galvarys?” Elyra’s breath caught for a moment. The dragon seemed in real pain. “What’s wrong?”
“My eyes!” The dragon shook his head, frantic. Water and soap sprayed from his pebbly blue scales. Elyra squeezed up against the corner of the tub to avoid being clobbered by his muzzle. “They sting! The water is burning them! What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Elyra said. Her momentary concern was soon overwhelmed by amusement. “It’s just the soap!” What a big scaly baby.
“But it hurts!” The dragon rubbed at his eyes with a paw, spreading the soap. A hint of actual terror crept into his voice. “I cannot see!”
Now she felt a little sorry for him. He was going to be so embarrassed when he realized it was just soap in his eyes. How could he not know…? No, of course he wouldn’t know. He’d probably never seen soap in his life, let alone bathed with it.
“You aren’t supposed to get soapy water in your eyes.” Elyra put a hand upon his flank. “Stop rubbing them, you’re making it worse.”
The dragon grit his teeth, growling in pain. “But it burns!”
Elyra chewed her lip. The sting might be far worse for the eyes of a creature who’d never experienced it. “Let me help you. Blink your eyes a few times, then squeeze them shut.”
Elyra waded around the dragon. She ignored the feeling of so many scales against bare skin. Now was not the time to act prudish. She ran her hand up his neck, then rubbed his cheek to coax him to turn around.
“Turn towards my hand, but don’t trample me.” Elyra moved through the water with the dragon, guiding him with her touch. “I’ll help you rinse your eyes in the fountain.”
“Very well.” The dragon’s voice was soft and resigned. “The water tastes terrible now!”
“Don’t drink it when it’s soapy,” Elyra said, guiding him towards the fountain. “In fact, you shouldn’t speak till we rinse you off.”
The dragon grumbled, turning in the water. Every movement sent another wave crashing over Elyra. She got soap in her eyes and mouth too. She spat it out, and blinked away the worst of the stinging. The fact the dragon seemed so traumatized by something so simple was both pitiable and endearing.
“Hold your head out.” Elyra put her hand upon Galvarys’ nose when he stretched his neck. She stopped him just before the water bubbling over the fountain’s last mossy, white ledge. “Now, I’m going to start rinsing you off. Don’t open your eyes yet.”
The dragon remained quiet. His breath blew droplets of water and turned the tiny fountain waterfall into heavy spray every few moments. Elyra cupped her hands and collected some cool water. She poured it over the dragon’s face, rinsing away some of the soap that clung to his pebbly scales and spiny eye ridges. Then she repeated the gesture a few times.
“The burning should be easing now.” Elyra tipped another handful of water over him. “Just a little longer, Galvarys.” Elyra rinsed his eyes until the dragon opened them to squinting, silver slits. He glared at her, blinked, and opened his eyes a little further. She smiled. “Better? You can stick your head under the waterfall if you want. I just didn’t want you sticking your nose in it while you couldn’t see and drowning yourself.”
The dragon grunted and pushed his head beneath the waterfall. He tilted it back and forth, letting the cold, fresh water cascade across him. Elyra pulled back to her own corner, hoping he wouldn’t be angry. So much for a nice, soapy bath. In the future perhaps she’d wait until after the dragon had washed himself.
“I’m sorry about that.”
The dragon’s ears flicked at the sound of her voice. He glanced away from Elyra, blinking away water. “Your apology is accepted. Thank you for…” The dragon growled as though he had trouble with a particular word. “Helping me.”
“You’re welcome.” Elyra smiled. Rivulets of water ran down his indigo scales. “May I see your eyes a moment?”
Galvarys turned his head towards her. Elyra stretched to look into the dragon’s eyes. Their silver hue was tinted red and bloodshot, but otherwise they looked fine. She patted his neck and eased back to her corner when he pulled his head away.
“Your eyes look alright. Do they feel better now?”
“Yes.” The dragon lapped at the fountain and let the water fall from his muzzle. Elyra realized he was rinsing his mouth. Dragons probably couldn’t spit the way she could. He pinned his spines back, and gave her a sidelong glance between mouthfuls of water. “It startled me, that was all. I did not know water could burn your eyes.”
“Your body isn’t used to it.” Elyra leaned back against the mossy ledge. “It stings my eyes too, but only a little, and I know I can rinse it out. I can see why that would…” She almost said, ‘scare you’. But the dragon might not appreciate that. “Startle you.”
Galvarys grumbled and eased back onto his haunches. Water ran down the exposed portion of his body, dripped from the talons at the tips of his wings. “I close my flight membranes when I put my head beneath the water. When I opened them this time, my eyes were on fire.”
“Flight membranes?” Elyra peered at his eyes.
“Yes.” Galvarys gestured with a dripping paw. “Like a clear inner eyelid. They protect our eyes from the winds when we fly, or the water when we swim. See?” Translucent membranes flicked shut across the dragon’s eyes, dulling their silver shine. “They protected me from the soap until I pulled them back. Next time I will keep them closed until I rinse my face.”
“So you’re not angry?”
Galvarys turned his head away. “No.” The dark blue color around his nostrils deepened. The inside of his ears darkened, as did the membranes that connected his facial spines. After a moment they’d turned from blue to a deep purple hue. Elyra could not stop herself from grinning when she realized dragons could blush. “Do not tell anyone about this.”
“Never, Azure Wrath. I’ve forgotten already.” Elyra giggled to herself, the water rippling around her. “The way I recall it, I was the one afraid I was going blind, and you were the one helping me!”
“Yes, yes, that’s enough.” The dragon lifted a paw from the water to wave it about. Droplets splattered the tile. He soon turned his head back, arching his neck to gaze down at her. He stared at her, tilting his head. “Have you cleaned yourself properly?”
“More or less.” With the soapy froth thinning out, the water provided less privacy. Elyra felt a little self-conscious beneath the dragon’s gaze, covering her breasts with her arms.
“Why do you hide your milk glands?”
“Milk glands?” The term caught Elyra so completely off guard that she burst into laughter.
“Yes.” Galvarys cocked his head, lifting his spines in curiosity. “Is that not what they are for? Feeding your young?”
“Well…Yes. For children. But they’re private. For sex. Men. Men like them.”
Elyra stumbled across her words, tripping and rolling through them till she’d jumbled up entire sentences. Her ears burned. She must look as scarlet now as he did purple a moment earlier. The dragon stared back at her, his muzzle hanging half-open and spines sagging as he struggled to comprehend what she was babbling about. His expression made her laugh again and gave her a chance to compose herself.
“Yes, Galvarys,” Elyra said after she’d steadied her tongue. “They’re for feeding our children. But only when they’re babies. The rest of the time…well, we consider them private.”
“I thought you considered that private.” The dragon pointed a single claw down beneath the water.
Elyra blushed a little harder, shifting under the water. “We do. But for women, our breasts are also private.” At least for women who were allowed that courtesy.
“I see.” The dragon dunked his head under the fountain, rinsing his face again. He licked his nose, glancing at her. “And they are for mating?”
“Not exactly.” Elyra chewed her tongue. How to explain without further embarrassing herself? “Men find them arousing.”
“Why?” The dragon did not sound as though he were trying to be difficult, or trick her into saying anything perverse. He simply sounded curious.
“I don’t know,” Elyra said, shrugging. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to turn around.”
Elyra turned away from the dragon. She scooped up what froth she could and went back to bathing herself, trying to answer his question. “They just do. Don’t you find anything arousing on a female dragon?”
“Of course,” Galvarys said. “Her sex.”
Elyra laughed, shaking her head. “I meant aside from the obvious.”
“Her haunches.” Waves washed against Elyra when the dragon shifted. She glanced over her shoulder. Galvarys worked his paws against his own scales, cleaning himself as he spoke. “Her tail. The shape of her body. Her scent.”
“And can you explain why you find any of those things arousing?” She dunked herself to rinse her hair and give the creature privacy when he cleaned his other areas.
Galvarys rumbled in thought, clicked his teeth when Elyra surfaced. “I simply do. I see your point.”
Elyra wondered how long it had been since he’d seen a female dragon. She thought of the sword, and her belly lurched. She wrung out her hair and watched Galvarys gently clean his wings. Elyra opened her mouth and shut it again before she blurted out some personal question she’d regret.
“I am clean now.” The dragon’s matter-of-fact announcement made her grin.
“I’m almost done, myself.”
“Good.” The dragon climbed out of the tub.
Elyra turned her eyes away out of habit. “I suppose you dragons don’t really consider your…well, your privates don’t seem to be especially…private to you.”
“I am not ashamed of my anatomy, if that is what you are asking.” Galvarys padded away, shaking himself off like a vastly oversized hound. “Nor am I embarrassed by it.” Then he glanced back at her, smirking. “Unless someone unexpectedly grabs it.”
“Funny.” Elyra smirked. “I’m going to get out now. If you’re going to watch, I cannot stop you, but I’d prefer that you did not. Privacy is a rare commodity for me.”
“I am curious.” The dragon backed up to a wall. “I have not seen what a human looks like without their clothes, discounting the way the soapy water obscures your body now. Your undergarments are as close as I’ve come.” He lifted a wing, pressed the side of his body against the stone wall, then rubbed against it to scratch what must be a very large itch. “But I shall not subject you to my gaze if you find it offensive.”
“Not offensive,” Elyra said, sloshing through the water to the stairs. “Just…it’s a bit embarrassing to a human, I suppose.” Truth was, she’d been made to undress before men so many times in her life that she barely even noticed the embarrassment. She simply wanted a chance to feel as though she were doing something in private. “Tell you what. You let me dress on my own this time, alone, and next time I shall allow you to watch without complaint. Is that fair?”
“Yes.” The dragon heaved a great groan as he quelled the troublesome itch. “But do not dally. We have a village to terrify, and I seem to recall offering you a ride on my back.”
“Yes!” The glee growing inside Elyra caused her to chirp her words like a warbling bird. “You did! I’ve an idea I think you’ll love, too! But you’ll have to wait till I’m dressed to hear it.”
“Very well,” the dragon said, grinning. “I have to go take a piss, anyway.”
Elyra’s grin fell over, twisting into a scowl as the dragon’s tail spines vanished through the archway. “Lovely, Dragon.”
She shook her head, her scowl soon vanishing. Perhaps she should have expected the dragon’s casual sort of crudeness. Why would a wild, free beast be beholden to the same sort of morals and politeness that a city stuffed with humans was? He scarcely seemed to understand the concept of privacy, and while he used crude words and phrases, he was never lewd. At least not in the manner of the nobles.
“I have to go take a piss,” Elyra said in the gruffest growl she could manage. She waved her hand in the air, laughing. “Piss, piss, piss.”
“Just don’t do it in the tub!” The dragon called back from somewhere outside.
Elyra reddened. She had to start remembering how sensitive his ears were. She made her way up the mossy stairs, careful not to slip, and then gathered her clothes. They’d gotten a bit damp thanks to the dragon’s splashing. Grinning, she tried to shake herself off the way the dragon did. Not as effective as she hoped.
Elyra used her clothes to blot at her body, enjoying her privacy. Even though her clothes were damp anyway, it was a worthwhile moment to savor her privacy. It was nice just knowing there wasn’t a roomful of other women about to march in and share the tub.
When Elyra was something resembling dry, she pulled the clothes on. Whenever the fabric caught against damp skin she tugged it free. The black trousers were too long and baggy but they wouldn’t fall down. The indigo blouse fit better, though the sleeves were also too long so Elyra rolled them up.
Once dressed, Elyra returned to Galvarys’ treasure room. She fetched her old brush from her pack, and worked it through her wet, red hair. She tossed the brush onto her bedroll and fetched a long-bladed knife in a gold-trimmed leather scabbard. She’d discovered it while digging through the clothes. It seemed appropriate so she buckled it around her waist. She picked up some parchment she’d scribbled a few words on, and stuffed it into her pocket. Finally, she shoved her feet into a pair of oversized, black leather boots she’d found at the bottom of a crate. She laced them up, and went to find the dragon.
Galvarys waited for her in the sunshine beyond the fortress. The dragon stood with his wings half unfurled, his wedge-shaped head tilted back as he stared up at the sky. His freshly-washed indigo and azure scales looked more vibrant than ever, while his black stripes were lines of shadow stretched across each limb. More darkness mottled him here and there like storm clouds against the deep blue sky. The dragon’s spiraling horns resembled pillars of carved obsidian crowning his skull. When he glanced over at her, the sunlight caught his eyes till the silver glowed with molten fire.
“What are you staring at?” The dragon snorted, nostrils flexing.
“You.” Elyra paced around the dragon, unable to stop smiling. “You’re magnificent right now. You look as though you’re ready to spring into some final battle, though whether you’re hero or villain I cannot say.”
Galvarys grinned back at her, twisting his neck to watch Elyra. “It is amusing you should say that. Just last night while I was flying, I was thinking I would not mind being remembered as a villain, so long as I am remembered.”
“You’d be remembered alright.” Elyra trailed her fingers along the dragon’s neck. “Could you arch your neck right here, please? Spread your wings?” She walked behind him, tracing a finger over the scales of his tail. “And curve your tail. Show off your spines.”
The dragon did as she asked, glancing back at her over his wings. “Why am I doing this?”
“It makes you look even more magnificent.” Elyra stepped back to get a better view of the sun-painted dragon. She rubbed her hands together, beaming. “Perfect. Galvarys, if you were painted this way as the villain in some picture book, no one would remember the hero. They’d only remember the grand, villainous dragon and all his magnificence.”
Galvarys rumbled in his throat, bared a few fangs. He arched his neck again. “I like the sound of that.” Then he snarled, pinning his spines back. “Until the part where the hero puts a lance in my belly.”
“Oh, no, no,” Elyra said, waving her hand as if shooing away the idea. “You’re the sort of villain who escapes in the end so you can cause trouble again later.” She tugged a few stray strands of red hair, twining them around her finger. “Oh! Or perhaps the sort of antagonist who begrudgingly allies himself with the hero to fight a greater evil.”
Galvarys hissed and tossed his head. “That sounds as though it would require a good deed. I prefer the first idea, where I just escape and plot my revenge.” The dragon grinned at Elyra, perking his frilled ears. “My minion would escape with me, of course.”
“Minion?” Elyra tilted her head, her grin widening. “I like the sound of that.” She waggled her finger at him. “I’d love to get to make demands and steal treasure! But let’s not be too evil. I don’t think I have murder and mayhem in me.”
“Leave that part to me.” The dragon smirked and glanced at the sky. “So, minion, are you getting on my back or not?”
How best to get onto a dragon’s back? The direct approach seemed best. She’d just run, jump, grab his wing joint and climb up. Elyra took a few steps back, and ran at Galvarys. She leapt off the ground, hurled herself at the dragon’s back and grasped his wing joint. But she misjudged her leap and smacked into the dragon’s scaly side. Her fingers slipped, and she flopped straight to the ground. She coughed as she landed on her back, and for a moment just lay there, half dazed.
Galvarys curled his neck to gaze down at her, cocking his head. “That did not go so well.”
Elyra coughed again, pushing herself up to her knees. “I noticed.”
“Are you alright?” The dragon rustled his wings as if impatient with her failed attempt.
“More or less.” Elyra grimaced, her ribs aching as she rose. While she dusted herself off, she looked the dragon over. “Would you be willing to lay down for me, please?”
Galvarys nodded, easing himself to the grassy earth. He stretched his black-striped forelegs out, folding his indigo wings tight against his body. “How is this?”
“Much better.” Elyra backed up a few steps for round two.
“Why don’t you just climb up?”
Elyra paused, glancing away. “It’s not as dramatic.”
The dragon raised his eye ridges, laughing. “Fine, injure yourself then.”
Elyra imagined herself toppling right over the other side of him and smashing her face against the earth. She cringed, rubbing her nose. “No, you’re right.”
Elyra approached the dragon and grasped the fleshy joint where his wing met his body. She tested out a few places to put her other hand, trying to get some leverage. Then she pushed her boot against his foreleg, glancing up at him to make sure he did not mind.
Galvarys curled his neck towards her. “You could try grabbing--AH!”
Elyra reached for the dragon’s head when he offered it for leverage and accidentally grabbed his ear. It was warm, and soft. Given the way the dragon yowled when she inadvertently twisted it, it was also sensitive. His cry startled her and she released him immediately, trying to scramble up his back. Her boots scrabbled against his scales but found little purchase and she slid back to the ground.
Galvarys rubbed his ear with a paw, growling. “That hurt!”
“Sorry!” Elyra cringed a little. “Are you alright?”
“You haven’t torn my ear off.” The dragon glared at her a moment, then looked himself over. “Put your boot against my shoulder, and your hand on my wing joint. Grab the base of my neck with your other hand.”
Elyra did just that. She struggled, but with enough effort she finally made it up the dragon’s back. As she swung her leg over him, she nearly fell off the other side. She yelped and hugged herself to the base of the dragon’s neck. When she was sure she wasn’t going to fall, she straightened up.
“Okay…I think I’m settled.”
Galvarys twisted his head around to glare at her, silver eyes narrowed. “Are you sure this is wise? I have never done this before.”
“That makes two of us, then,” Elyra said, already beaming as she gazed around the mesa from the dragon’s back. “And no, it’s not wise. But I’m not getting off of you now until we land in the village.”
“Or until you fall.” Galvarys snorted, rising to his paws. “Your weight feels odd.”
“Am I too heavy?” Elyra swayed as the dragon stood.
“It is not a matter of weight. I have already carried you and those boxes. But I’ve never had weight against my back before.” The dragon took a slow, awkward step, then another. “It feels strange. Give me a moment to get used to it.”
That was fine with Elyra. She needed time as well. Each step the dragon took caused her to bobble and sway. She felt the dragon’s warmth against her, felt each rippling movement of powerful muscles. Elyra imagined it might be like riding a horse bareback, but she’d never done that, either. She shifted herself a little, testing the slickness of his scales. She was thankful they did not feel slippery.
“How does it feel?” Elyra leaned in a few directions, trying to adjust to his movements.
“Not terrible.” Galvarys went into a loping trot around the mesa. “Your weight is not an issue. As long as you do not interfere with my wing beats, I foresee no problems.”
The dragon’s muscles rippled and rolled against Elyra, but she adjusted quickly. Soon her body swayed with the dragon’s movements, and before long she felt comfortable enough atop him. She patted his scales, grinning. This was already fun.
“How are we going to know if I interfere with--AAAAH!”
Elyra screamed when the dragon launched himself into the air. Her stomach puddled in her boots. She flung herself against the dragon’s neck, shrieking as they ascended. Elyra pressed her face to Galvarys, scales etched marks against her cheek. Wind gusted around her, every upward motion pushed her stomach harder against her soles. The ascent was swift but short. Galvarys leveled off after only a few powerful wing beats.
“By testing.” The dragon glanced back. Sunlight glinted against his silver eyes, but the gleam was dulled when he flicked his flight membranes closed. “You’re not going to scream like that the whole time, are you?”
“You startled the hell out of me!” Elyra said, still clinging to the back of his neck. “I wasn’t ready!”
“You need not worry.” The dragon dipped a wing to follow the contours of his mesa. “I would not ascend to a dangerous height until you were prepared. If you fell from this height you would not die.”
Elyra peeled her face away from the dragon’s neck to peer at the ground below. They weren’t much higher than the trees that crowned the mesa. The grass whipped by beneath them. “I’m not so sure! At best I’d probably break half the bones in my body.”
“They would heal.”
Elyra shook her head as she eased upright. The dragon stretched his wings, gliding. His body felt still and hard beneath her, coiled power. She’d once heard a noble discuss feeling the power of his horse, now she understood what he meant. She also knew the power of a dragon had to be far more impressive.
As Galvarys sailed wide circles around his fortress, Elyra adjusted to the feeling of flight. As her startled fear wore off, joy quickly replaced it. She twisted back and forth, gazing down over each side of the dragon’s body. Every gorgeous, sun-dappled mountain peak suddenly seemed within reach. She looked behind herself. The dragon’s wings looked immense and magnificent, vast indigo sails rippled with black swirls and markings. Elyra felt his power in every wing beat, felt the air whirl around her.
This was everything she’d hoped for.
“Higher!” Elyra called out to the dragon. “Fly higher!”
Galvarys’ laughter reverberated through him. The dragon beat his wings in swift ascent. Elyra leaned against his neck, watching in awe as the world fell away. Soon the fortress was but a gray block on a green patch of land amidst a crack in the earth. The distant mountains looked like the scales, plates and spines of some massive relative of Galvarys. This was how the dragon saw the world every day.
“Please!” Elyra yelled to him. “Please tell me you never take this for granted!”
This time when the dragon laughed, the cascading rumble filled the air. “Never! Flight is one of my greatest joys!”
Elyra knew why. Flight was freedom.
Now Elyra shared that joy.