On the Raising of Dragons

by Tenshi

Kinship was instilled in the blood of Dragon Knights. Before they became part of the Scarlet Moon Empire they were their own kingdom, though a small one and jealous of their privacy. Without a dragon, it was only reachable through one narrow and heavily-guarded cave entrance. There were rites and rules and order among them, the vast extended family that they were, and while from time to time a rider would come or go or marry an outsider, the fact remained that Dragon Knights were best with their own kind, and those who knew the skies could never quite mix with those who didn't. They had learned to keep their own stories and their own rites, and most preferred the company of wings.

It made the lot of an exile particularly hard.

Futch was born, as all members of the Dragon Knights were born, in the dragons' nesting caves. His first cries had mingled with the bell-like song of the hatchlings, and that was the way of things. He never knew his father's name, and it never occurred to him to ask. Among the knights they were all fathers and brothers and sisters, and he assumed when he got around to picking a partner of his own he would go up to Joshua to read the rolls and figure out his actual bloodline to prevent any clashes. But it was only one kind of shared blood that really mattered, the legend sleeping in the breast of every Dragon Knight. It was just a legend, they said, a myth. No matter that, from time to time, a human child was born sharper of canine and redder of eye than most of her fellows, with a dragon's slit pupils.

Dragons knew their kin, and nothing else need be said about the first Dragon Knights and their rune bearer.

When he was seven Futch joined the other children in the caves, assigned to feeding and petting and doctoring and cleaning, learning how to care for dragons and be cared for by them. A year later he was brought to the hatching chamber, along with the rest of his peers who had done well in the past year. He was the youngest of them, and some of the older knights expressed doubt that any dragon would trust her egg to so young a human.

Flare, Joshua's red dragon, had studied him a long time before nosing one of the eggs in her clutch and rolling it towards Futch's outstretched hands. Something shivered and rustled inside it, and for two hours Futch sat with his arms around the egg, warming it with his breath and his palms, until it cracked. A tiny nose-horn shattered flecks of shell as tough as stone, and a sleek black head nudged up under Futch's chin, keening happily.

It was a sound he had never thought to hear again, and certainly not under the green leaves of a forest in North Window, of all places.

"Sleeping again, is she?" Humphrey asked, when the happy dragonish noises subsided into snores.

"Hmm," Futch answered, shifting the white dragonlet's weight in his arms. Black had been bigger when he hatched, more like a miniature pony than the small, hot armful that Bright was. He didn't know if she would ever be big enough to ride, but somehow, watching the motion of her almost-transparent eyelids, that thought didn't really bother him. "Not for long, and she'll be hungry when she wakes up, though."

"Hai Yo should have a nice bowl of scraps waiting for her," Viktor said, slapping one gloved hand across his belt. "And for me too, if I've got any luck to my name."

Flik eyed him coolly. "If you really want the cook to save you all the offal from the cattle, then your appetite is worse than even I feared."

"I meant, I was hoping for a steak and a tankard," Viktor said, and flung one of his tanned, scarred arms around Humphrey's shoulders. "How about it? Old timer's Liberation Army get-together?"

Humphrey almost smiled. "Sounds good," he said, "but Futch--"

"I have to feed Bright anyway," Futch interjected. "I'll get something for the kitchens for myself, Sir Humphrey, you don't need to turn down friends on my account."

"You're an old-timer too, compared to this crowd." Viktor reached out as though he would ruffle Futch's hair, but a baby dragon's blue eye, slit in warning, was enough to make Viktor stop and scratch the back of his own head, instead. "Heh. Not to mention shot up like a weed!"

"After all this time with you, Humphrey, I'm surprised he isn't towing around a meat-cleaver like yours." Flik put one hand on Odessa's hilt, the slim, simple hilt looking rather demure next to the massive claymore on Humphrey's back.

"Not yet," Humphrey said, his bland tone making Viktor guffaw. They fell into a conversation about people Futch either didn't know or barely remembered, already reliving times gone.

Futch looked down at the sleepy dragonlet gnawing harmlessly at his gloved finger, and told himself it was normal for him to feel isolated.

He was a Dragon Knight, after all, and best with his own kind.

Hai Yo had an amazing capacity for picking favorite foods for his customers, and once Futch gave him a few guidelines on Bright's needs he was happy to provide all the delicacies he could think of to suit a young dragon's palate. The platter of kitchen odds and ends was always arranged as though it was ready for a king's table. Futch had attempted to protest, saying a bowl of butcher scraps would do just fine, but Hai Yo insisted on presentation.

"After all," he had said, "what other chef can claim to have prepared gourmet meals for dragons?"

Futch got the feeling that Bright had begun to think herself quite the princess, especially on fancy meals of minced sheep stomach and artfully arranged cow entrails. He didn't have the heart to do anything about it, though he told himself he should. If she was spoiled, he was responsible for most of it.

With the smell of Bright's dinner and his own pot of oyster stew clashing violently, Futch climbed up to the room he shared with Humphrey. Bright followed him on her wobbly legs, her wings straining for a lift they would not have for months. He took the steps slowly as she flapped for balance, looking forward to her becoming steadier on her feet. He had learned the first time that dragons and elevators did not mix.

Futch preferred to feed her in private, owing to the messiness of her meals, and the fact that he sometimes forgot which was her plate and which was his. His room, however, proved to be unexpectedly occupied. Three blue knights of Matilda were doing their best to get one of their fellows out of the wall, where he appeared to be stuck halfway with his legs dangling outside.

"I'm so sorry," Viki was saying, to the exasperated man and his sweating companions. "I'm not at all sure how that happened. Especially since there should be rocks in your middle!" Her delicate eyebrows furrowed. "Oh, dear. I wonder where they went?"

Futch rolled his eyes, sighed a little under his breath, and plodded back the way he had come, a confused and mewling white dragonlet tagging after him.

It was just one of the little things you got used to, being born under a star of destiny.

His alternate place to feed Bright was under the tree by the pond, but the unicorn loitering there gave him a baleful look and a disapproving whinny at the tray of animal parts. Futch, with respect enough for the long spear of the beast's horn, continued down the path. Bright lingered a moment, her purple tongue flickering out as she eyed the smooth, silvery expanse of unicorn flank.

"No, Bright."

She mewled petulantly and followed him, after one last beady look at the fluffy, tasty ducks drowsing on the edge of the pond.

Every spot Futch could think of was crowded. In the end he simply retreated into the shade of the fortress wall, hard up against the dojo, and put down the tray. "There you go," he said. "Eat up."

Bright looked at the tray, and then up at Futch. Her tail swished a clear place in the dirt, hopefully.

"C'mon Bright, you have to learn to feed yourself. You're not an eggling anymore."

Bright opened her eyes wider, their swirling, milky blue the very picture of innocent helplessness. Her tail swished harder.

Futch ignored her, sitting down on the edge of the dojo porch and taking the cover off his stew. "Don't give me the starving lizard face."

Bright threw back her head and keened, as pitiful a sound as anyone, Dragon Knight or not, had ever heard. Her ears drooped, her tail wallowed limply, and if she could have shed giant tears she would have. It was only a matter of time before someone came over to see if Futch was torturing his dragon. After all, to anyone who knew nothing about raising them he would have looked cruel, teasing a small creature like Bright and not letting her have her dinner.

Futch swore, a phrase he had picked up from Humphrey on the sly, and he put the lid back on his own dinner. "You know what you are? A spoiled little pain in the packbasket, that's what."

He picked up the tray and at once Bright's protests stopped; she flapped and wiggled and dug her claws into Futch's thigh until she managed to get her rump in his lap, and butted the bottom of the tray with her head. She was still keening, but it was a happy, cheerful sound.

"Just wait. Once we get out of here, I'm gonna leave you your food and you can cry all night if you want. It won't do you any good until you learn to eat your own dinner." Futch picked up a handful of Bright's squishy food and held it out for her to eat out of his hand. She put her claws on his wrist to hold it steady, and enthusiastically gobbled the offerings. Every now and then Futch's fingers got in the way, but she never bit him very hard, and he was used to dragon-nips.

"What am I going to do with you?" he said, but since there was nobody around, he let all his affection show in his voice. "Chase down stags for you when you're a yearling?"

"What are you doing?"

Futch jumped, his hand jerking reflexively and Bright mistaking his finger for the tasty bit of pig's liver he was holding.

"Ow! What?"

"Sorry!" Hix said, cringing. He was easily scolded, owing to the company he kept, and his hang-dog expression was very similar to Bright's wide-eyed stare. "I was just--"

Tengaar's screech of aggravation cut through the fall afternoon, sharp as the blade of her knife. "Hiiiiix! Where are you?"

Hix blanched at the clarion call of his true love. "Hide me!" He pleaded, a cornered, desperate man.

"You can't hide from me forever!" Tengaar's voice was coming closer, and Futch tilted his head at the cluster of bushes beside the dojo.

"Over there," Futch said. "I'll cover for you."

"Thank you thank you," Hix breathed, and dove for the bushes with the skill of long practice. He tucked his boots under the leafy lower branches a split second before Tengaar rounded the corner.

"Don't think I don't know where you're hid-- oh!" Tengaar checked herself, the Dragon Knight and his hatchling not what she expected. "That's funny, I thought sure he would be... Have you seen Hix?"

The bushes quivered, ever so slightly.

"Sorry!" Futch said, scratching Bright's ears. "But I'll let him know you're looking for him, if he comes by."

"Hmm," Tengaar said, eyeing the bushes with considerable suspicion. "I wonder..."

"I was just feeding Bright," Futch said, holding up the tray of offal, complete with a curious hornet buzzing around the gelatinous globe of a sheep's eyeball. It had the desired effect, as Tengaar yelped in disgust and recoiled from the platter.

"Ugh! That's disgusting!"

Futch's disingenuous expression was only halfway feigned. "Well, she is a dragon." He plucked the eyeball from the tray and tossed it towards Bright. She snapped it out of the air, her jaws working with relish as she savored the tasty morsel. When she was done she flickered her long tongue towards Tengaar, as impudent a gesture as Futch could ask for.

Tengaar beat a hasty retreat and Bright wurfled in her nostrils, a sound suspiciously like laughter.

Futch listened to Tengaar crashing down the path, too flustered to even call out for her erstwhile warrior, and grinned. "You can come out, I think it's safe."

Hix fell out of the bushes, his cheeks puffed up in a massive sigh of relief and his hair littered with leaves. "Man. I thought I was a goner."

"She's your girlfriend, and you don't want her to find you?" Bright was satisfied enough with his fussing that she deigned to be put down on the tray to finish, and Futch cleaned off his hands in the damp grass.

"I don't mind her being my girlfriend, I just... don't want her to find me." Hix scratched at his headband, awkward. "It's complicated."

"If you were a Dragon Knight you'd just get a new girlfriend," Futch said, finally getting to his own dinner at last. Bright was licking the tray, but paused to give Futch a scornful look for his obviously poor taste in his own food. "There's none of this name writing on swords, bonding for all time business."

Hex's eyes widened. "You mean you just... anyone you want? You don't marry anybody?"

"If we really want to," Futch said, slurping down an oyster. "But the dragon-bond is usually so much stronger there really isn't any reason to. Besides, it keeps the brood nice and mixed."

Hix let out his breath all at once, falling onto the edge of the porch. "Maybe I could be a Dragon Knight."

Bright's expression was far more skeptical than her master's.

"You kind of need to start when you're really small," Futch said, as apologetic as he could manage. Hix was a nice guy and one he knew pretty well, but he couldn't picture him riding a dragon. "And there aren't a lot of dragons to go around."

"Yeah, you're right." Hix tucked his leg up to his chest. "I guess it would be easier if I even knew what I wanted to be, you know? Instead of knowing what I don't want to be."

"Flik says you're a good fighter," Futch offered, but Hix just snorted.

"Flik says that about anybody, he's a nice guy that way. You should hear how much the kobolds love him." He fumbled his swordbelt off, laying the sheathed weapon across his leg, and sliding just enough of the blade free to see Tengaar's name inscribed there. "I always told Tengaar I wasn't much of a warrior, though I put her name on here because I thought it would be enough to make her happy-- and because... well. I wanted to. But it only made things worse. I mean, she's the daughter of the chief, what was I thinking? I don't even like to fight."

"Well..." Futch stalled, not sure how living as an exiled Dragon Knight in the company of a close-mouthed warrior was any help in offering relationship advice, especially to someone older than he was. "She likes you, or she wouldn't fuss at you so much. And you like her, or you wouldn't put up with it, right? I mean it's like..." He floundered around for an example, and his eyes lit on Bright's polished food tray. "It's like feeding baby dragons."

Hix's head came up, his brows lowered in confusion. "What?"

"You see," Futch explained, "Baby dragons are pretty weak. In the wild they'd be left to fend for themselves, which is why they are so few, and the ones that live are the really tough, mean ones. So if you're raising a dragon, you have to hand-feed it all the time if it's going to live." Bright put her head on Futch's knee and went to sleep again, her belly full, unaware she was a metaphor. "But after a point, you have to start being a little mean to them."

"Mean to them?" Hix echoed.

Futch nodded, a little more confident now that his split-second example was going somewhere. "Yeah. You have to start just putting their food down for them and making them eat it on their own. Then you have to start hiding it in places, so they learn to go looking for it, and then after that you can start bringing them live things, like rabbits and squirrels. Eventually, one day, you don't get them anything at all, but they'll be so used to looking that they'll find something on their own. The first time with Black, he came back and dropped a whole deer on my head, like a puppy fetching a stick. After that a dragon'll just hunt on its own. But you have to stop hand-feeding them first, or they'll never learn."

"Is that what Tengaar's doing?" Hix asked, musing on the quillions of his sword. "Being mean to me?"

"If you ask me, she's still hand-feeding you," Futch said, running his fingers over the satin-soft scales under Bright's jaw. "Getting after you to practice all the time, telling you what to do." He grinned. "If you were my dragon, Hix, I would have been hiding squirrels for you three years ago."

"Hmm." Hix considered the dragon in Futch's lap. "Maybe it's time I learned to hunt on my own?"

"You can't ask her to accept who you are if you don't even know who that is," Futch said, pleased with his own deductions. Maybe humans and dragons-- and Dragon Knights-- weren't so incompatible after all. "And you can't figure that out with her telling you what she thinks you should be, right? I had a hard time, not being a Dragon Knight all of a sudden. But Sir Humphrey never told me I should be one thing or another, even without a dragon. He let me deal with it on my own."

"What did you decide?"

Futch shrugged. "I don't know yet." He gave Hix a reproachful look. "I'm still just a kid, you know."

"Sorry," Hix grinned. "You seem way more together than me, I forget that. Maybe by the time you figure it out, I'll know too."

"Hey, anything is possible," Futch said, looking down at the precious, needle-sharp claws curled trustingly around his thumb. "...anything at all."

Except, maybe, for Sharon ever growing up.

"For the last time, we are not there yet." Futch twitched Bright's reins, unwilling to let any more of his impatience show. If Sharon had been his daughter-- well, she wasn't, and so it was probably better to not even consider that. "Sit still and quit complaining. If you want to be a knight yourself you'll have to ride for a lot longer than this."

"But I'm tired," Sharon complained, tugging on the back of his tunic. "C'mon, we've been flying for like, hours. Are we trying to get all the way home tonight? Bright's tired too, right?"

Bright made a noncommittal noise, muted over the sound of the wind.

"Bright is," Futch said, "a Knight's dragon, and she will--"

"Knight's dragon blah blah blah blah blah." Sharon said, miming a talking mouth with one hand. "You're always going on and on about Dragon Knights this, Dragon Knights that, like you know everything just because you got your first dragon when you were eight. If I had my own dragon--"

"If you paid any attention to your studies, Sharon, you would have had a dragon yourself years ago." Futch wanted, deep down, to make her pride smart as much as his own. It was pretty common knowledge around the fort that if Futch hadn't been out of the knights for a vital five years, he would be ranked much higher than fourth class. "If Lady Milia thinks that you have learned some things and done some growing up this year, then maybe you'll be allowed to--"

"You don't have to call mom 'Lady Milia' in front of me," Sharon retorted. "It's not like I don't know you're sleeping with her." Sharon wrinkled her nose. "Which is kinda gross, you know? She's still pretty but she's like ten years older than you--"

"Your father was two hundred years older than your mother when you were born," Futch argued, glad that the sunset light disguised the color rising in his face.

"Lord Joshua doesn't count, he had the Dragon Rune."

"Well then your mother doesn't count either, young lady, since she's got the Dragon Rune now and hasn't aged for the last--"

"I still say she's robbing the egg-caves."

"Shut up, Sharon."

There was a moment of sulky silence from the back of Bright's saddle.

"You're not my dad, you know. Just because you're my little brother's dad."

"No," Futch said, gritting his teeth, "I'm your commanding officer, which is much, much worse."

"It still doesn't make you the boss of me!"

"Yes, actually it does."

"You don't have to be so mean about it, though!"

"Sharon, do not make me land this dragon."

"That's what I'm trying to make you do," Sharon wailed, punching him between the shoulder blades. "My ass hurts."

"It wouldn't if you had been spanked more when you were little. And don't say 'ass'."

"You just did."

Futch freed a hand from the reins to put his face in it. No matter what was needed for him to get his next rank, he couldn't imagine that any third-level knight trials would come close to the pain of babysitting Sharon for a year. Milia, two months pregnant at the start of the grasslands conflict, wasn't able to devote time to a long campaign. Futch had volunteered to take her place.

Before she told him that Sharon was going, too.

Milia had sent him a letter, just before the assault on Brass Castle, saying that she was fine and the dragons were fine, and how was the war going and by the way I thought you might like it if I named him Humphrey, he's fine too and he has your eyes.

Was it any wonder Futch wanted to get back? Spoiled teenagers entirely aside, one did not have a new son waiting at home every day.

Bright lifted her head into the wind and let out a long, trumpeting bellow, and Futch at last relented. Home was still far away, and Bright wasn't the only one tired.

"All right," he said, scowling at the still-distant mountains. "Find us an inn, Sharon."

"Whoo-hoo!" Sharon crowed, sounding much like a dragon herself, and craned between Bright's beating wings at the miniature countryside below. "Hmm, hmm, hmm, looks like a good one there."

The flat, silvery edge of the sea clung to a rocky line of beach below, with a small city nestled in the curving arm of the harbor. Futch didn't know the name of the place, though a young mapmaker he hadn't seen in years would have been able to tell him. The banners on the harbor ships were friendly ones, and that was all he needed to know.

"I hope they have someplace to stable a dragon," he said, wheeling Bright into a steep descent. "Otherwise I'm camping in the woods with Bright."

"I'm sick of camping," Sharon grumbled.

"You're sick of everything," Futch shot back, and both of them leaned towards Bright's tail as the dragon's powerful front claws caught rock and they skidded to a halt on the roadway. Futch swung his leg off the saddle and hopped down, patting the muscle of Bright's flank. "Sharon, stay with Bright while I go check out the inn."


"I mean it, that's an order."

Sharon slithered down off of Bright's back and tugged her skirt down. "Maybe we'll take off without you!"

Futch exchanged a knowing glance with his dragon. "I seriously doubt that. Bright, keep an eye on this runt for me."

Bright snorted, ruffling Futch's hair, and looped the end of her tail securely around Sharon's middle.

"Good." Futch slung his sword onto his back.

"Hey!" Sharon pummeled her fists, uselessly, on Bright's tail. "I'm telling mom about this!"

"You do that," Futch said back, striding towards town.



Bright bellowed at both of them, and Futch was glad to use the opportunity to escape.

The town inn was a boisterous, crowded harbor tavern, but with clean thatch and patrons that at least mostly looked honest in their dealings. The innkeeper smiled up at Futch as he came in, confirmed that yes there was an empty room available, but looked daunted when Futch mentioned stabling Bright.

"No offense to your knight lordship, sir, but I don't know as what the other patrons would think, having their tender and tasty horses stabled right up against a beast like that. What if it takes a mind to eat one?"

Futch's face darkened, but he refrained from telling the fat hosteller that any insult to a dragon was an insult to its rider. "My dragon," he said, "would no more take a mind to eat another man's mount than I would consider eating one of your hunting hounds."

"To be sure, your lordship, to be sure," the man said, glancing at the two-handed handle of Futch's sword and starting to sweat a little. "But it's my patrons I've got to think for, you see. They wouldn't be comfortable with their horses stabled next to a--"

Futch drummed his fingers on the counter, giving the man a cold, level stare that would have brought a touch of fatherly pride to Humphrey's heart if he had been there to see it.

"As gentle and fine a creature as your dragon," the innkeep finished, weakly.

"Stable the dragon on the end," someone said, separating from the crowd at the bar and strolling over to the inn's counter. "And you can put my horse next to it. He's used to the dragon-horses of the Feitas river, and Sir Futch's dragon won't bother him."

Futch studied the stranger, trying to remember, of all the men he had fought with, who this one was. He was dressed like a south islander, with a close-cropped goatee and a face that had seen long hours of sunlight and sea. His headband was distinctly rakish, with beaded ends, and there was the glint of a gold hoop in one ear. It was his sword, with its distinctive Warriors' Village styling, that gave him away. Futch recognized Hix's weapon long before recognizing the man himself.

"What are you doing all the way out here?" Futch said, after an enthusiastic handshake that was firm on both ends.

Hix arched an eyebrow at him. "Learning to hunt for myself," he said.

Futch shook his head. "I'll say. You look like a pirate."

Hix laughed, his eyes crinkling up at the edges. "I've been trading in the southern ports for the past five years. Everyone down there looks like a pirate, you should see the commander of the Obel navy. But come over and let me buy you a drink."

"I should see to Bright," Futch began, but was interrupted by Sharon somehow exploding into being at his elbow, demanding an explanation for being left behind.

"Who's this?" Hix asked. "She's not yours, is she?"

Futch gave him a pained look. "If she was, I'd be better able to keep a leash on her. Hix, this is Sharon, daughter of Lady Milia of the Dragon Knights."

"A princess, eh?" Hix shook her hand. "I fought alongside your mother in the Toran Republic war, when I was a young man. Exciting times."

"Really?" Sharon said, dubiously. "Sounds like total boresville to me."

"A lot of that," Hix said. "Interspersed with moments of abject terror. Her dragon helped make those ice boats for us, do you remember, Futch?"

Futch grinned. "Coldest boat ride I ever took."

"Um," Sharon said, "not that this isn't riveting and all, but Bright's in the stables, so I'm going to bed. You old guys can stand around and talk about war or whatever if you want."

"I think we'll do just that," Futch said, and ignored her as she pouted all the way up the stairs.

"Spoiled rotten," Futch sighed, jerking his thumb after her. "We've just gotten back from the Grasslands, you'll have heard about all that, I suppose?"

"Actually, I've only just returned from the south and have been trying to catch up." Hix gestured for the barmaid to bring two tankards over, and one of the tables miraculously cleared for them to have a place to sit.

Futch gladly filled him in on the events of the war, and one tankard became three as the bar crowd thinned and the night wore on. When he was done he took a long pull of his mug and settled back against the bench. He had been skimming the main room for signs of Tengaar's red hair, but hadn't seen any trace of her, save for a silver ring Hix wore on a chain around his neck. "I almost hesitate to ask," he said, "but how's Tengaar?"

"Fine as ever, I hope," Hix said, beaming with pride. "I'm expecting baby number four this spring, actually. Girl, I hope. She's turned the boys into a regular army."

Futch shook his head. "So you went and married her after all?"

"Well," Hix hedged, and for the first time his old uncertainty was in his eyes. "Not right off. First I told her there was no way I could have a proper quest of manhood with her with me and looking out for me all the time, so I saw to it she had friends and funds enough to see her back to the Toran Republic, set off on my own, and wound up joining the crew of one of Shu's merchant vessels."

Futch had raised his eyebrows so far that his circlet was the only thing holding them on. "You mean she let you leave like that?" he asked, incredulous.

Hix shifted his weight in the seat. "Well. I did sort of have to leave her a note and sneak out of the window in the middle of the night, but the effect was much the same. I imagine she was pretty mad at me that whole two years I was gone-- she didn't answer any of my letters. But she changed her tune fast enough when I came back and convinced her that I'd be a better husband as successful sea merchant than as a unwilling warrior."

"You married her then?"

"Uh no." Hix said, sheepish. "She said we could be re-engaged, but she sort of demanded I at least become a captain before we could get married. So it was another three years. But I think I turned out better than she'd hoped, and she's got three boys and a whole village to fuss over, now that her father's passed away."

"It still sounds too complicated for me," Futch said. "But it seems to suit you, 'Captain'."

"I owe it to you and that dragon of yours." Hix tilted his chin up to acknowledge the salutes of several sailors leaving the bar for the night; his crew, Futch realized. "I never would have thought of striking out on my own, but once I did, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And there were a few times that I didn't think too kindly of you for putting the idea in my head, but it's done me good in the end. I owe you a drink for that, if nothing else." Hix put his tankard down on the table with a hollow clunk and scratched at his bearded chin. "So, what about that hellion with you? Is she hunting on her own yet?"

"Hardly." Futch swirled his tankard, making foam come up off the last sip. "But that's Milia's problem. I've raised all my dragons."

"Really?" Hix's gaze was unexpectedly shrewd. "All of them?"

"Well," Futch admitted. "Maybe except for one new one."

"I thought as much," Hix said, and lifted his tankard in a toast. "Well, here's to hoping he takes to it pretty quickly. If not, he's got a good teacher."

"I'm glad one of us thinks so," Futch said, and brought their mugs together.


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