SUMMARY: In which Marcus and Esca bring Uncle Aquila a gift from Magical Dinosaur Scotland, which doesn't do quite what it's supposed to. Gen.
CANON: Movie/book fusion
NOTES: Written for Motetus for Fandom Stocking, this is an alternate ending for my dinosaur AU, "Beyond the Mists." It is also very silly.
I am only posting some of my fanfiction to this site, due to FFN's content restrictions; the rest can be found at archiveofourown DOT org SLASH users SLASH Carmarthen. Also, if anyone here is looking for more Eagle or Eagle of the Ninth fanfiction, ninth-eagle DOT livejournal DOT com is Ninth Eagle, where there is a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people.
An Unexpected Gift
"You'll find a few changes since your last visit, nephew," said Marcus's uncle, drily, with an expression Marcus wasn't entirely sure about.
"Happy ones, I hope, sir?" Esca ventured.
"Mmmm," said Uncle Aquila, noncommittal.
Supper consisted of salad with cheese, eggs in some kind of savory sauce, and roasted quails. Stephanos had outdone himself, Marcus thought, leaning back on the couch he shared with Esca. And there was no fish this time, praise the gods; Stephanos had always overcooked it into dry flakiness, so it was like eating glue.
"The quails were excellent," said Marcus, tentatively. His uncle had been unusually silent throughout the meal, almost dour. "A pleasant change from fish."
"Ha!" said Uncle Aquila. "Yes, quite a pleasant change." Behind him, Stephanos was carefully staring at the slightly chipped fresco on the wall of the triclinium, with no expression whatsoever.
They ate the almond tarts, which were also excellent, in uncomfortable silence.
By the next morning, Marcus still had not figured out what changes his uncle had meant. The villa seemed much the same, if perhaps the roof was missing a few more tiles and the walls could bear replastering. The lake—large pond, really—was still the same, reed-fringed and tranquil in the late summer sun.
His uncle must have spent a fair bit on the quail; perhaps Marcus and Esca could repay some of his hospitality by hunting for fresh game. There were roe deer in the forest nearby, and perhaps ducks, if they could borrow a dog from one of the neighbors.
He was just about to turn back into the villa to look for Esca when something broke the smooth surface of the lake, swift and huge and dark, a familiar sinuous motion that minded him immediately of the previous autumn spent in Caledonia, and of the great loch where they had stayed for a time.
His mouth went dry, his heart suddenly hammering.
They had been so sure, so certain, that the egg would not hatch; it had been the last in the lake-steed nest, the other eggshells long broken and cold. Winter had been coming, and they had thought well, there was no harm in taking it, to prove what they had seen in the north.
"As you can see, Marcus, one change in particular," his uncle said behind him, his voice as dry as a desert. "You might have simply bought me a hound, if you thought I needed the company."
Stephanos, it turned out, had been rather freer with his tongue, speaking to Esca. "Wonderful beast," he'd said, "although I'll thank you not to tell Master Aquila I said so. I never could cook fish worth a sestertius, but he didn't seem to mind—but now the beast has a prodigious appetite for fish, so he's had to ask for other things. It's not as if he can't afford the occasional chicken, or even veal..."
In fact, Esca had had to pretend he heard Marcus calling to escape, or Stephanos would have kept talking about Uncle Aquila's menu forever, he told Marcus later in the bathhouse.
"We have to do something about it," Marcus said, firmly. "It's our fault."
"Do you think it will get much bigger?" Esca asked, leaning back against the side of the tub and sinking down lower in the hot water. "That one back at the loch was a lot bigger."
That one back at the loch wouldn't even fit in a lake four times the size of this one, Marcus thought, worried. But perhaps this lake-steed was a runt; the egg had been smaller than the others, and light, and perhaps that explained how long it took to hatch.
Perhaps if they got it to the river, somehow, it could swim out to sea, and...go north, maybe, to find the rest of its kind. Like a bird; birds always knew where to go.
Marcus was wandering back from the bathhouse, still considering how best to coax the beast out of the lake—perhaps they could lure it onto a cart with fish; it was not a fish itself to die in a short time out of water—when he saw his uncle down on the lakeshore, with a basket. Marcus knew what that meant, for he had done it himself: his uncle was feeding the lake-steed.
When the basket was empty, Uncle Aquila gave the beast a pat on the head. It rested its long serpentine neck against his shoulder for a moment, for all the world like a friendly hound leaning against his master, and then vanished smoothly under the water.
"He calls it 'Margarita' and treats it as nice as a pet dog, young master," Stephanos murmured, pausing in his way across the courtyard. "I know he complains about the beast, but I think it is only for the pleasure of the complaining, especially now that you are here."
"I see," said Marcus. It did seem like his uncle's humor, now that he thought of it; he supposed he had only known his uncle for a few years now, so it was no wonder he had not realized at once what was going on.
Well, at least he would not have to figure out how to take the lake-steed away now, since both his uncle and Stephanos seemed to like it.
His uncle only laughed and smiled at him, like it was the greatest joke in the world, when Marcus casually mentioned that he couldn't dislike the beast that much if he fed it. (And of course, he had also named it after his beloved old dog, although Marcus did not mention that because then his uncle would know Stephanos had given away the joke.)
"Your family," Esca told him that night, in the privacy of the room they shared, "is completely daft."
Marcus couldn't really argue with him.