Title: Not Again.
Summary: An old acquaintance needs help and remembers Rowan. Don't own Rowan of Rin.
Light shining through her eyelids woke Jiller from her sleep. She blinked and squinted.
'Mmm,' what a lovely warmth on her face...
She sat up suddenly. Morning sunlight peeked through her curtains. They were rather nicer curtains than she was used too; a rich crimson with gold and green embroidery that Shaaran made for her birthday.
'Uh, Jiller?' Jonn murmured next to her in bed. Jiller pushed back the sheet, got out and padded over to the curtains.
'Jiller? Ah!' he pulled the sheet over his face as she pulled the curtains open.
The sky was blue. The sun was up. It was at least eight o clock.
Jonn sat up and held a hand over his eyes. His chest was bare in the summer heat.
'We have slept in late,' he noted. 'What time is it?'
'Maybe eight,' Jiller frowned.
'Odd. You are usually up at dawn... Did you fall asleep later? We were up a bit late...'
Jiller smoothed her messed hair and peered outside.
'Still, I should not have slept this late.'
'Would you like to ask Rowan to wake you when he leaves in the morning?' Jonn laughed. 'After last time...'
His face was red. She knew because mere mention of the whole fiasco, from her son entering the room to Jonn falling out of bed, naked was the quickest way to make all three of them blush like Mountain berries.
'Most days the Dragon's roar wakes me,' she returned subjects. It still felt strange to say "the Dragon's roar" and mean it.
And then it clicked.
'Oh no. Not again.'
XXX xxx XXX
'Shaaran?' Norris called. 'Did you notice something odd this morning?'
Shaaran pulled her knees up to her chest, even though her brother could not see her in the tub.
'Yes. I am not certain what, but I think something happened.' His footsteps did not thud away, so Shaaran knew he was still standing outside the bathroom door, having a good think.
'Good morning Norris. Waiting for the bathroom?'
'Huh? Oh, good morning Sara. I was just thinking.' It occurred to Shaaran that were she a different girl, she might have teased Norris for that statement. "That must hurt," perhaps.
'Really? What are you thinking about?'
'Something strange has happened, but I cannot put my finger on it.'
'Allun would say it is like trying to remember the taste of a particular cheese,' Sara laughed. 'Or an odd smell. But, you know, I was just thinking the same thing.'
Shaaran scrubbed between her toes quietly.
'I am sure this has happened before; this feeling is familiar... '
'Good morning, Mother, Norris, Shaaran!'
'I will assist him,' Norris thudded away along the hall, thump, thump, thump down the stairs.
'Morning, Allun,' his voice drifted up and in through the small, frosted window.
'Hullo, Norris,' the baker's cheerful greeting joined Norris'. 'Did you notice?'
'Notice what? Do you what the strange thing is?'
Sara and Shaaran perked their ears to hear it.
'Of course; I am up before dawn. The Dragon did not roar today.'
XXX xxx XXX
'I know,' Rowan said. 'The Dragon has not roared.' He looked up at the light blue sky and frowned. 'I am sure it has not. And it is well past dawn. I wonder if it has something in its throat again?'
'Hmmm.' Star nudged his hand.
Rowan smiled and let her lick the peas out.
'We will have to see what happens, hm?'
XXX xxx XXX
'Good morning, Lann, Timon.'
'Morning Jiller, Jonn, Annad.'
The two small parties greeted each other in the street.
'Lann,' Jiller began. 'Did you hear the Dragon roar this morning?'
... 'You did not?'
'Oh dear,' Timon shook his head. 'Not again.'
'Do you have to go up the Mountain again, Jonn?' Annad asked, looking excited. 'Can I come with you this time?'
'Ah, we do not know what exactly has happened yet, Annad,' he said.
'But it is just like last time! If we go up the Mountain sooner then the stream will not go down much. I want to see the Dragon!'
Jonn and Jiller paled.
'Yo, Jonn!' Allun hailed them. He jogged down the street, dodging villagers nimbly. 'Did you know? The Dragon-'
'Yes, Allun!' Jonn called. 'We know.'
'Calm yourself,' Lann reprimanded Allun when he got close. 'This is not a matter you need to bellow about for the entire street to hear.'
'Sorry,' he said, shamefaced. 'But they are going to find out sooner or later. What are we going to do about it?'
Lann thought about it. Around them, people were walking close, hoping to hear more of what Allun was going to say.
'If it does not roar at dusk, we will assemble a party to travel up the Mountain again and they will leave tomorrow morning,' she decided. 'The same as last time, hopefully better, now that we know more about the journey.'
'The same people?' Jonn asked, not sure whether to grin or frown.
'I will not be struck by the same weakness as last time,' Allun pointed out. 'Thanks to my friends' persistence.'
'Some of the same. Rowan must go. I am sorry, Jiller, but he was the only one to succeed in the quest last time.'
'I know,' she said evenly. 'He would be safer this time. Things are different now.'
Jonn touched her arm.
'Yes! Can I go then? Please?'
'Annad? Are you not coming to help me in the orchard this week?' Jonn picked her up and swung her.
'Well yes, but- oh! Oh, look!' She pointed.
XXX xxx XXX
The Dragon glided down on warm thermals, barely needing to beat its wings. All birds had scattered in the wake of the king of the sky. They, unlike the lizard invaders knew how to be submissive. And to keep away from what might eat them.
Its throat hurt again. Those large, blind snakes might look meaty, but they were fast, they burrowed, and one bite stung terribly. Not that the dragon could not destroy them; a breath of heat was all it took. Only now there was something stuck in its throat. Again.
If the dragon could, it would have roared in frustration.
If the dragon could understand human speech, it would have sworn so loud the parents of Rin would cover their children's ears.
It had not smelt the scent in a while, seasons. Yet there it was: warm animal, grass, wood and something that was sort of flowery. Different now, closer to full-grown. The smell belonged to someone who would make the pain go away again.
XXX xxx XXX
A gust of wind suddenly blew into Rowan from behind, flattening grass and making his hair fly.
'What on earth?' he looked around widely. The bukshaa bellowed startled and panicked. Star nudged Rowan urgently and told her herd to move it. Rowan went round the other side to lead.
'Come on, everyone,' he called. 'It will be alright, just move into the trees!'
He spun around. His mouth dropped open.
The Dragon of the Mountain landed in the field. It was as big as he remembered: head half the size of Sheba's hut, teeth as long as his forearms, paws the size of windows and as long as three houses. Its scales were still hard and white.
He was dead.
'Hhmm.' Star nudged him. The rest of the herd waited in the trees, snuffling worriedly.
'Star,' Rowan said quietly. 'Go into the trees. Take the herd away. I will be alright.' She did not move.
'Star, go.' He pushed her. Star just stared carefully at the Dragon. Rowan looked at it. It looked back.
What in Orrin's name was it doing here? There were no invading gratch (he glanced up quickly to check). Had something happened up there?
Whoosh. Its nostrils flared and it breathed on him, blowing his hair back. It was saying hello, Rowan realised. The bukshaa did this too sometimes. Should he blow back? Would his little puffs even be noticed?
'Hello, Dragon,' he spoke. 'Why have you come here?' It would not understand his words, of course, but it would get the gist. It was the soothing, friendly tone that mattered.
The Dragon stared at him with pain filled eyes. It opened its mouth. Star bellowed in alarm.
'Shh, it is alright, Star,' Rowan murmured, gazing into the toothy maw. 'The dragon means no harm. I am going to help it.'
XXX xxx XXX
'Slow down!' Lann called. 'You will only startle the beast by rushing in.'
Shaaran was holding Norris and Annad's hands to no avail. They were so anxious to get to the bukshaa field that Shaaran was stumbling behind them.
Lann and Timon were at the rear of the small procession making their way to the field where the Dragon was seen flying to. Next were Jonn, Jiller and Allun, very nervous, though Allun hid it well. Annad and Norris lead the way.
So far, they were only people tramping through the orchard but Lann knew there would be others soon.
'I can see the bukshaa!' Annad cried. 'Here is Dawn and Cloud and Moon and hello Sunny!' She squeezed through the herd waiting in the trees.
'Oh! Come here, everyone!'
The rest of the group shuffled through to her.
'Look,' Annad pointed.
'Oh my goodness!'
Jiller went so pale that Jonn wrapped an arm around her lest she collapse.
Several meters ahead, in the field, Rowan was kneeling right in the Dragon's mouth.
Ugh. It was as icky as he remembered. Slimy, rough tongue, and hot, meaty breath. It was as nerve-racking as he remembered. Huge, sharp teeth and dark, gaping throat. Dear Orrin, he was scared. He shook with the urge to scramble out and run away as fast as he could go.
Rowan crawled further along. Ah, there was the blockage, a little further down than last time. He frowned. That looked like a big blockage.
What did the Dragon eat? The bone was at least as long as his leg! It was cracked and broken, but he could see where it bent naturally in several places, like a snake's spine.
Twist twist. Bit by bit the bone came loose. First the front, then next bent sticking into pink flesh, then no, the one after that had to go first. Back up.
Splat. Yuck! A gob of spit big enough to fill a glass landed on his head!
'Could be worse,' he muttered. 'At least I don't have to extract anything from the other end.' Anyway, if he could handle assisting bukshaa with difficult births, a little spit was nothing.
Whoosh. Rumble. Rowan froze. The tongue trembled underneath him. Hurry!
Twist twist. There! Rowan quickly, carefully shuffled back, pulling the bone with him.
It happened quite suddenly.
The Dragon's whole mouth trembled and wobbled, its breath quivered with a peculiar snuffling, breathy growl.
Rowan toppled back and sort of sideways and landed on his bum with a splat. Saliva now oozed over his hands. Then he was being pushed and rolled and prodded by something.
And he was squashed into a dark, wet, squishy space. He was on his back and his legs were curled up. Rowan could barely breathe.
The warm squishy thing covering him flared and pressed down hard. He was still clutching the long bone; it dug into his chest and side.
It was hot. Warm for a second, then Rowan was sweating into saliva, suffocating, being shaken to pieces by some enormous sound. His heart pounded, his head swirled full of shadow and fire.
After several long seconds, he was pushed again, into cool, fresh air, landing on the ground with a thump.
Cough cough! Rowan's whole body trembled as though the terrible shaking was still going off inside of him. Something big nudged him.
Whoosh. He opened his eyes.
White. And red. The Dragon nudged him again with its nose. Rowan reached up and stroked it.
'It is alright now,' he said quietly.
XXX xxx XXX
From the moment she saw her son in the Dragon's mouth, Jiller desperately wanted to climb up and yank him out to safety. She did not, of course, because Rowan had the situation under control.
When the Dragon's mouth trembled from staying open wide, Jiller squeezed Jonn's hand, hard. He squeezed back.
And when the Dragon covered Rowan with its tongue and breathed fire over top of him, into the sky, she grabbed Annad's hand with her spare. Please, please let him be unharmed!
Several long seconds passed before it spat Rowan out on the grass, surprisingly gently.
'Oh thank goodness,' Jonn gasped, seeing his stepson raise his hand to touch the Dragon on its snout. Shaaran sagged against an apple tree.
Suddenly, the Dragon turned to look at them with its large, slitted, bloodred eyes. They all froze under its gaze. It sniffed and backed off. Then the Dragon lept into the air, flapping its wings and flew away.
Jiller dashed out of the orchard to Rowan's side and embraced him.
'Are you alright, Rowan?' she asked.
'I am fine, Mother. Only rattled.' He hugged back, wobbly all over.
'That was so amazing!' Annad cried as she threw her arms them. 'Ew! You are sticky!' Rowan giggled.
'You were all watching?'
'We saw the Dragon fly this way,' Jonn told him.
'It flew right over Rin,' said Norris.
'Did anyone else see?'
'I do not know.'
'I hope no one is panicing in Rin. Hello, Star. You stayed here the whole time, hm?' Rowan stroked her head, despite her wool sticking to his wet hand.
'Hhmm,' Star licked his face with her rough tongue. The rest of the bukshaa herd came out of the trees and licked or snuffled Rowan before they spread out on the field again to graze.
Norris took notice of the extracted bone laying next to his friend.
'Whoa, Rowan. Did you pull that from the Dragon's throat?' he asked, astonished.
'Yes. It is larger than the other one. I shudder to think what it must have been hunting.'
'It looks as though it came from an ice creeper!' Shaaran gasped. 'See how long and curved it is!'
Lann, Norris and Rowan paled.
'An ice creeper you say?' Jonn picked the bone up.
'I do not think it agreed with the dragon,' Allun muttered.
'No. I do not suppose it did. Ice creepers tend not to agree with anyone.' Rowan stood up began wiping spit off his body. 'I will go and wash this off in the stream...'
Jiller's hand on his shoulder halted him in his tracks.
'No, Rowan, you are coming home for a bath.'
'I do not need a bath, Mother,' he protested. 'I had one last night. A dip in the stream will work.'
'It will not wash away the smell of dragon breath.'
'But I am at work, Mother. Can I not have a bath when I come home for lunch?'
'They will be alright on their own for an hour. And I am sure they would prefer you didn't smell of dragon.'
Star seemed to say yes. She sneezed at him.
'Oh alright. Could we please not walk through the market though?'
'What shall we do with this?' Jonn lifted the ice creeper bone.
'I will take it,' Timon offered. 'This will make an interesting study.' Jonn gave it to him.
'It is yours. So, skinny rabbit,' he said to Rowan. 'What was it like in there when the fire came out?'
XXX xxx XXX
* I don't know exactly what kind of sound the bukshaa make. They have things in common with with cows and oxen and sheep I reckon.