Upon learning from his son that his chieftain plans to force his daughter to wed a stranger, Achaius McCord flees with his family. In order to escape, he spends hours clinging to a dragon’s neck, aggravating his weakened thigh muscles. He spends the first few days in his new home flat on his back, and when he finally regains his feet, he’s constantly asked if he needs help…with everything. All Achaius wants is for everyone to stop coddling him. While he knows he’s no longer in his prime, he’s not an invalid. Then, he learns the true reason everyone is being so nice. He is what the dragons call an asda, a human capable of bonding with a dragon, affording them status and companionship. Having lived as a cripple for nearly a decade, Achaius knows he’s looked down on and pitied by his fellow man. Why would anyone want him as their companion?
“So, are ye a dragon like them?” Achaius asked suddenly. He waved the damp cloth absently for a few seconds before adding, “I doona know what ye call yerselves. I think of ye as dragon-men.”
Curzon smiled at Achaius’ words. He nodded slowly, swallowing his urge to chuckle. “It’s not a bad name for us, I suppose,” he rumbled. “But don’t let too many others hear you call us that. They may take offense.” He grinned at Achaius’ questioning expression. “We just call ourselves dragons, even though we can take on a human skin.”
“So ye’re like them?” Achaius pressed.
Shaking his head slowly, Curzon murmured, “Aye…and nay.”
Achaius snorted. His brows drew together as his lips curved up into a smirk. “So which is it? Aye or nay?”
Upon hearing Achaius’ obviously amused tone, Curzon chuckled softly. He thought quickly, trying to decide the best way to respond. Adding a couple of stitches to his patch, he decided what to share.
“My mother was a human,” Curzon explained. “My father is a dragon, so I’m what’s considered a half-breed.”
Setting aside a now clean bridle, Achaius rubbed his thigh absently as he peered at Curzon. “And that be allowed? Does it happen often?”
Curzon paused in his work, meeting his gaze. “Does what happen? For a human and dragon to create offspring together?” He watched Achaius nod, so he continued, “More often than you’d think. They’re not treated any differently than the offspring of two dragons or two humans.”
“Really?” Achaius sounded surprised.
“Well, their training is a bit different, because their skills develop at different times,” Curzon explained. “But all children are appreciated and encouraged to find a suitable place in our clan.”
Curzon wasn’t certain why that would surprise Achaius. Didn’t humans in clans do the same? Didn’t they train their children and find a way for them to be productive?
“Doesn’t everyone need a purpose?”
Achaius sighed. “Aye. A purpose,” he mumbled, returning to cleaning.
When Achaius lapsed into silence, Curzon continued to glance his way. He finished up the patch and began mending a tear on a different blanket. Curzon thought about the human’s words and why he was there, sitting in the small equipment room helping him clean.
It seemed Achaius did not yet have a task in their society. From what he’d said, he didn’t seem to be allowed to do much.
Mayhap I can help change that.
“You are welcome to return to the stable, if you’re feeling idle,” Curzon offered. “I raise and train the warrior’s mounts alone. I am one of the blacksmiths, since I must shoe them, as well. There are always little things that I fall behind on.”
Achaius scoffed. “Offerin’ the cripple something to keep busy?”
Curzon grunted, rolling his shoulder in a half shrug. “We all have what we consider things that hold us back.” He narrowed his eyes and fixed his gaze on Achaius. “You have two strong arms, one good leg, and there is plenty that can be done with that.”
Achaius gaped at him for a few seconds, then chuckled roughly as he nodded. “Aye. Ye’re right.” He smirked depreciatively. “Guess I got too hung up on how others view me.”
“Happens to us all at one time or another,” Curzon allowed.
Before he could say more, Curzon heard a bell ring, the sound faint. After a few seconds, a second and third bell, these closer, rung. After a moment, they stopped.
“I’ve heard those before,” Achaius stated. “What do they mean?”
Curzon tied off the string he’d been using to stitch the tear in the blanket. “The bells ring to signal that a meal is ready. It gets the attention of those who work in the fields and with the animals.” He stood and folded the blanket. “Anyone is welcome, if you’re hungry,” he added, setting the material aside. “Many people don’t care to prepare their own meals, including the dragons in training.”
Achaius nodded, wiping the cloth along a section of reins, clearing the last of the soap from the leather. “I could eat,” he said. “Normally me daughter would bring me a meal.” He set down his cleaning supplies and picked up his crutch. “Are ye heading down there?”
About to shake his head, Curzon thought better of it. While he didn’t normally eat with others—the occasional pitying look from full dragons pissed him off—he nodded. “Aye, let us go eat.”
Curzon headed out of the room. He waited until Achaius limped past him, then closed the door behind him. Strolling slowly to match the human’s gait, Curzon showed Achaius first to a nearby water pump to clean up, then down to the dining hall.