Quinn, Collin and Par walked to the village. Par had decided he wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. He hadn’t been in the room when Collin had talked to the mayor, so Quinn was not sure if he knew of their involvement yet or not. Either way, he could not talk freely to Collin.
Quinn glanced at Collin. His face was set in an odd tension, and it held none of the humor Quinn often found there. The humor would reassure him that no matter how bad things became, it would turn out all right. But now it wouldn’t. He wasn’t sure how much of Collin’s concern stemmed from the coming meeting and how much was due to Geoff’s stubbornness. He now knew how irritating and childish he’d been during those times he’d retreated into his own pain and desired a final end. He wanted to shake Geoff and make him snap out of his irrational mood, but Geoff was too frail to use more than the arguments they had.
Quinn swallowed and stared straight ahead toward the church steeple – the only church in town – which sat two buildings closer than the village hall. He’d been just as shocked as Kayden when Collin spoke to them through the transceiver, begging them to find a way to make Geoff change his mind, begging them to do anything, even berate Collin himself, if it’d break whatever barrier Geoff had put up against him. It was the begging and the tone of Collin’s voice through the transceiver which had torn at his heart.
Collin truly loved Geoff, just as Quinn loved Shanika. And when he saw Geoff that way, he couldn’t imagine waiting for Shanika to say yes before he subjected her to a lifesaving treatment. But then perhaps at 61, Collin felt Geoff deserved the right to make up his own mind. In fact, that had always been one of the medical ethics Collin insisted on. The patient had a right to know his options and to choose between them. The patient had the right to refuse treatment, and as a doctor, he had the right to refuse to administer a treatment he felt harmful. That was one of the first things an apprentice learned, and in cases like this, one of the hardest to live with.
When they arrived at the village hall, it was already crowded. Everyone was talking about the dragon who’d saved the mayor’s daughter. As they settled into chairs back near the door, Quinn even heard of “good dragon” stories he knew nothing about. He glanced at Collin, wondering if it was news to him also, wondering how much was hype, the story tellers trying to top each other’s experiences, and how much Jake actually did on his own.
Par sat on the other side of Collin and leaned toward him. “You heard anything about this dragon?”
But just then Mayor Talbert approached the podium in the front of the room set on the small stage where the school children sometimes held plays. His daughter sat in the front row between his wife and her boyfriend, William. Quinn couldn’t see her face, but imagined the bruises must be fading to a sick yellow hue by now. William still held his arm in a sling to keep the shoulder from unnecessary stress.
Sheriff Paxton stood off to the side near the wall, scanning the group. Mayor Talbert pounded a gavel on the podium, and the remaining chatters quickly found their seats. After the usual short preliminaries, the Mayor said, “The first item on the agenda tonight is the silver-blue dragon. Several of you have requested that we address this issue, although the reasons vary. As most of you know by now, my daughter had an opportunity to speak with it.”
“Dragon’s don’t talk. They’re killers plain and simple.” Quinn noted the speaker – Henner Foist, a friend of Quinn’s now dead father. They’d sometimes go drinking together. Henner was one of the few people Quinn tried to avoid. He had always cut Quinn down, and then after he’d gone, his father would beat him while telling him how miserable a son he was.
“Now, Henner,” the mayor said with exaggerated patience. “Missy isn’t the only one who has had occasion to hear the dragon speak. Dr. Stone has also had the pleasure. I suggest we allow each person here who has had experience with the dragon to tell about it, and then we will make a decision.”
Par shot Quinn an incredulous glance, but Quinn ignored him.
“And what type of decision will that be? We need to kill the beast.”
“Let me read some statistics I gathered this week. These are records for the last four years. Village of Glen Arbor: 13 deaths, 1 maiming. Village of Big Rapids: 11 deaths. Village of Antioch: 16 deaths. Village of Jacada: 15 deaths, 3 maimings. City of Alexandria: 28 deaths, 18 maimings. City of Shade: 31 deaths, 7 maimings; City of Capitol: 57 deaths, 11 maimings. Village of Hope: 0 deaths, 0 maimings.” He set down his papers.
“If this creature is responsible for our zero dragon attacks in four years record, then to hunt or in any way injure him would be killing our savior. I suggest we adopt him as our honored guest and give him the full benefits of a citizen of Hope, governed and protected by all our laws.”
Clapping burst forth from the group. Collin gave Quinn a startled glance.
But then Henner stood again. “What do you mean full benefits as a citizen? He’s an animal. Animals can’t understand law.”
“I suggest we hear the words of the witnesses before we discuss this. Missy, tell your story first.”
The girl stood and faced the group, telling her encounter with the rapist and then her rescue. “He spoke as clearly as you or I, and he wasn’t a normal dragon. He said he was a mammal dragon. Mrs. Foster said that meant he has fur – which he does. He has the softest fur you can imagine. The other dragons don’t have fur. He saved me from that awful man, and he carried me home as gently as a mother would carry a baby, and Doc Collin said he found William and took him to Doc for care. He’s a hero.”
Par smacked Collin’s arm with the back of his hand. “You two have been holding out on me,” he whispered.
The mayor allowed several others to speak, and it became obvious that this wasn’t Jake’s first encounter with the public. He had been spotted killing another dragon, breaking up brawls, bringing stray livestock to safety, and leading lost children home after dusk.
“Dr. Stone. You haven’t told us your adventure. You seem to be the only other person who has heard the animal speak, aside from the children who aren’t here to testify.”
Quinn glanced at Collin and then stood. “Four years ago my brother was killed. In anger I took a decorative sword and hoped to kill the creature. When he came at me I realized that no one could kill a dragon with a thin sword, and I thought I was dead. But then Jake – the silver blue dragon killed the bronze reptile dragon right over my head. The reptile dragon fell on me. He drew it off and spoke to me.” Quinn hesitated, not quite sure what else to add.
“What did he say? You said Jake. Did the creature tell you his name?”
Quinn glanced at Collin. Collin nodded, and Quinn continued. “Yes. His name is Jake.” He glanced at Collin again. “Jake Trapper. He’s a mammal dragon, and he takes it as his duty to protect people. He’s adopted our village.”
The murmurs rose. “Jake Trapper. Are you sure? As in Hans Trapper?”
Quinn nodded and glanced back at Collin. Collin now wore a slight grin, the first he’d seen on his face in almost a week. Encouraged, Quinn smiled also. “Yes. Jake is my friend now. I see him often.”
The people all talked at once until Mayor Talbert pounded the gavel. “Dr. Stone, you’re telling us that you’ve been in contact with this creature for four years, and you told no one?”
Quinn shrugged. “Who would believe I had a talking dragon as a friend. I even thought I was losing my mind for a while.” There were a few sounds of laughter throughout the group.
“May we meet your friend?”
Quinn met Collin’s gaze, and then he heard Jake’s voice. “He’ll meet you, but only if no one here has projectile weapons except the sheriff. Currently three other people are carrying guns. He does not want to be shot.”
“Anyone who shoots our protector will be guilty of murder or attempted murder, and they will suffer a murderer’s death,” declared the mayor.
Another round of applause rippled through the room.
“They really like me,” Jake said excitedly through the transceiver. “I’m a hero, Collin.”
Collin’s smile grew a little wider as Quinn struggled with what to say next.
“Will you bring your friend now?”
“I don’t need to be brought.”
“I don’t control Jake,” Quinn clarified. “I… I’ll see if I can find him.”
“Why don’t you wear your new clothes when you return,” Collin said in a low voice.
Quinn was only briefly surprised. He looked to the front of the room. “I’ll need some time.”
“Sure. Go ahead. Where does he live? Perhaps we can all go to him.”
With a slight shake of Collin’s head, Quinn knew he had to lie. “No one knows where he lives. Probably up in the mountains. But sometimes he comes when I ask.” Quinn slipped out the door and ran toward home. Jake landed before him, half way there, and took him home to get his Rock Trapper outfit.
Marta rushed up to them when they landed. “How is it going? It’s good, isn’t it?”
Quinn smiled. “Yeah. So far. No one is to know where he lives, Marta.”
Quinn ran upstairs and quickly changed. As he made his way downstairs he heard Shanika shriek. “A dragon! Daddy, there’s a dragon outside.”
Quinn grabbed her into his arms and took her past a terrified Gwen. “And he’s a very pretty dragon, isn’t he? This dragon is a good dragon. The only good dragon around right now.”
Michael and Kayden came from Geoff’s room, grinning when they saw him. “Rock Trapper on the scene? And what’s Hans doing?”
“Keeping a low profile.” He set Shanika down. “You be good, Sweetheart, and maybe tonight or tomorrow night Jake will take you for a ride. Right now I have to go back to the village.”
Kayden crouched beside Shanika. “You go, Quinn. Shan and I will wait here for our ride. I bet it’s going to be ten times better than a pegasus ride.”
“Flash! He didn’t eat Flash, did he?”
Jake snaked his head to her. “I don’t eat pegasus. I eat reptile dragons and boars.”
Shanika stumbled back against Kayden. Kayden smiled and rubbed Jake’s snout. “Go on. Get back to your adoring public.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Collin waited with the others for Quinn to return. There were a few dissenters, but the mood of the room was in Jake’s favor. Any attempt on his life today would be met with quick and lethal retaliation.
Par glared at Collin. “How come you never said anything?”
Collin shrugged. “Would you have believed me if I told you occasionally a dragon brings me patients in the middle of the night? Like Quinn, I did not wish my reputation to be damaged by what appears to be unbelievable.”
“Dr. Collin, Quinn called him Jake Trapper. Do you believe Hans Trapper lives near here?” the mayor asked, silencing the crowd.
“I believe Quinn has been seeing him, but I am under the impression that he has a home north of here in the mountains.”
“What extraordinary luck for us!” he declared. “I always thought Hans Trapper was a legend, and if the man did exist he lived near Alexandria. Do you think you could persuade him to visit us?”
“It appears that Hans is a very private man,” Collin said. He couldn’t help the slight grin. “If he wanted to be known, I’m sure he’d do so. Perhaps it is his association with Quinn which has showered these benefits upon us. As we heard, Quinn met Jake four years ago. Our record of good luck stems from that time. It seems to be a curious coincidence.”
A thump sounded on the top of the hall, causing many inside to start in surprise. “Is it?” The mayor asked, focusing on Collin.
“That would be my guess,” Collin said. He led them outside. Quinn looked magnificent standing on that roof in his new Rock Trapper outfit. And Jake beside him. The evening sun glittered off his swirling sky blue body, a sight they rarely had a chance to appreciate with Jake’s restrictions. The sun had always brought out the best colors in his creatures.
Gasps rose from the crowd when they realized what Quinn’s royal blue dragon-hide outfit meant. “Hans?”
“No,” Quinn said, settling to sit on the edge of the roof. Jake rested his head beside him. “I’m his apprentice, though.”
“And Jake is your dragon?” asked the mayor.
Jake lifted his head. “I belong to no one. I am loyal to Hans. Rock Trapper is my friend.” He unfurled a wing to wrap slightly around Quinn.
They fielded questions until dusk, and Collin couldn’t help the pride his son engendered as he sat there, apparently completely calm, and spoke confidently with the majority of the village. But then Jake stood and spread his wings. “You should all go home now. It is getting late. The reptile dragons still prowl, and I can not be everywhere.” He looked over the crowd, who did not move. “Do not become complacent! Some nights I am not here. Do not destroy our zero death record because you think you are safe. Those stupid reptile dragons keep coming even though I keep killing them.”
“Could you let us know when you’re going to be gone?” someone asked.
“Please. Do not rely on me. I cannot be everywhere at once. If you give up your precautions, we may again have deaths that I am helpless to prevent. I cannot be everywhere,” he repeated.
Quinn stood beside him. “Don’t ever blame a dragon death on us. Jake does all he can, and if he is able to prevent it, he will. But he cannot be everywhere. Jake was hunting for his food in the mountains when Burke was killed. I was lucky that he happened to be here when I needed help. Is it Jake’s fault he needed food that night, or Burke’s for staggering drunk outside at night? Just as Sheriff Paxton could not anticipate the attempted murder and rape to prevent it, Jake cannot anticipate dragon attacks and be everywhere. He patrols the village often several times a night, but he cannot be in the whole village at once. Treat his help as you would our sheriff’s. You still know danger is out there and take precautions.” Quinn rested his hand on Jake.
“Now hurry,” Jake said. “You all have just enough time to get home before it is completely dark. Quinn and I will patrol for the next hour to make sure you and your animals are safe.”
Quinn mounted Jake’s back, secured his straps, and then they were airborne.
Collin smiled and started through the crowd toward home. He was stopped several times, but he pointed to the sky and kept walking.
Par jogged to him. “Wait. You knew Quinn was Rock Trapper, didn’t you?” He adjusted his gait to match Collin’s.
“As my employee he felt it only fair to consult me first. Of course I gave him my complete support. But you see, Par, that’s why I need you here. There are times when Quinn will not be able to work. There are times….”
“Dragon dung! You’re Hans Trapper!”
They were well away from the others now, and Collin chuckled. “I suppose the blue slacks and boots while I operated on a baby pegasus gave it away. And that I just happened to know the son of the only dragon hide tanner on the continent.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Why indeed, Par. I want you not to say anything either. Let Quinn take center stage, and let us concentrate on doctoring. We are still the only doctors for thirty miles now, and we don’t want to be too busy answering questions that we can’t see the sick and injured. Do I have your support in this, or must Quinn and I leave Hope to avoid harassment?”
Par took a deep breath. “Yeah. Wouldn’t do to have you both on stage, would it? Too bad Geoff is too sick to work.”
“Tell him that for me, will you? Tell him you need him when he’s feeling better.”
“But he has leukemia. He’ll never feel better.”
“It’s not hopeless. He just won’t let me try a new experimental treatment.” Collin’s mood dipped back into the pit it had been wallowing in since Geoff had refused his help. Geoff had always been stubborn, a form of revenge when he felt hurt. As a child, it’d been over a month before he’d forgiven Hans Vita for killing his baby dragon. But Geoff didn’t have that long to play around before he forgave Collin for not telling him his secrets long ago. And he probably thought Collin should have tried harder to treat Lenora. Or maybe Geoff was taking revenge on himself for not seeking Collin’s help. Maybe Geoff was too sick to know what he was doing.
Quinn and Jake landed on the road in front of them, startling Par. “Do you want a ride the rest of the way?” Jake asked.
Collin gave Par a slight smile. “How about it, Par? Ready for your first dragon ride?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They’d all stayed up late in Collin’s living room, talking about the village meeting and the dragon. Geoff left them early to return to bed. Apparently now the whole village knew Quinn was Rock Trapper, knew about the dragon, Jake, but didn’t know about Collin being Hans. How long did the man expect to keep that secret? Briefly Geoff wondered if they’d find out before he died, but he was too weary to speculate long before he fell asleep.
When he awoke, Par was sitting with him. He brought him some juice and then sat in the chair, rubbing the sleep from his face. “What do you think about that dragon and Quinn being Rock Trapper?”
“Try not to think. The old heart’s not up to it.”
“Rather annoying actually,” Par said, glancing at Geoff out of the corner of his eye, but keeping his gaze toward the door out to the rest of the clinic. “The whole village will be begging to talk to him so they can get dragon rides, and I’ll be stuck with most of the work.” He glanced at Geoff again. “Wouldn’t hurt any to have another doctor on staff, especially when he goes off to do his Trapper stuff.”
Geoff lay back down. “Hans – Collin put you up to this?”
“Hans? Guess I was the last to figure that one out. Hans Trapper. So you know I’m not just blowing steam. We need another doctor.”
“Go hire one from Alexandria,” Geoff said weakly.
Par stood and straightened Geoff’s covers. “Might not have to if you’d accept that experimental treatment. We use a lot of C.H. Anon’s cures here. And I’ll tell you this, I’ve never seen them fail. If Collin has gotten a hold of something from him before it’s officially in the journal, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to try it. How can it hurt? It can’t be near as bad as that chemo stuff they’re doing over in Alexandria.”
Geoff closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. Another young kid to tell him he didn’t know what he was doing.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was right at lunch when there was a commotion outside. A wingdeer let out a note of triumph. Collin and Kayden ran outside. Quinn gave a slight smile. “Sounds like Sam sees a stray female who’s actually in heat.”
“With a rider?” Michael asked.
Quinn smiled. “Having a time of it, too, poor guy.”
“So how do you know?” Geoff asked. All last night Michael and Kayden had seemed to know what was going on in that Village Hall, and now this.
Quinn tapped his pocket, and then pointed to his ear. But he looked at Shanika across the table. “Did you like that dragon-ride last night, Sweetheart?”
“It’s not that guy for Flash, is it?” She jumped out of her chair.
“Sit down, Shan. Flash’s owner rides a boy wingdeer, remember?” Then Quinn shot a look at Geoff.
“What is it?” Michael asked, seconds before Geoff did.
Quinn shook his head and ran his fork over the remaining fish on his plate. But then Michael looked at Geoff, and his expression became blank.
But Geoff didn’t have to wonder long. He heard his son Vince as he, Collin, and Kayden returned to the dining room. “Is he really as bad as he says in his letter, Doc?”
“You should know growing up in a clinic that I can’t tell you that without your father’s permission. He’s conscious and probably in his right mind.”
“Probably,” Geoff muttered.
He was rewarded by a brief smile from Michael. “He can be annoying that way, can’t he? Of course, suicide has rarely been considered a rational option.”
Geoff scowled. He wasn’t committing suicide. He was dying of leukemia and heart disease.
But now Vince was with them, his six foot two frame, almost as broad as Collin’s beside him. “Dad!” He pulled the letter from his front shirt pocket. “What’s all this about? Heart attacks and leukemia and death. You’ve scared Misti and Raini to pieces.” He slid into Collin’s chair. Collin pulled up another.
“When did you acquire a wingdeer?”
Vince rolled his eyes. “Don’t change the subject. If you’re as sick as your letter says, why aren’t you in Alexandria?”
“I had the heart attack here. Where’d you get the wingdeer?”
“It’s one of the city’s beasts. I borrowed him – her,” he glanced wryly at Collin and Kayden, “from the mayor’s stables.”
“Hope’s Mayor doesn’t have a wingdeer, nor the sheriff,” Michael noted.
“Hope is a poor, rural village, with no real resources. I’m surprised you people have any deer.”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Quinn said dryly, not lifting his gaze from his food. “Are you going to bill the City of Shade for the stud fee, Kayden?”
“We do need all the money we can get out here with no resources,” Michael added.
Vince returned his attention to his father. “Let’s get you packed up. We’re going to Alexandria.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Just like Vince to try to take over his life. He always had, even before he became the mayor’s personal assistant. He expected he’d be Mayor of Shade within another ten years, but he should learn to use a little tact with the villages. Geoff tried to shake off his son’s arm.
Vince stood and faced Collin who stood also. “Where are his things.”
“Valuables are in my safe.”
“Get them for me.”
“Geoff is not dead, and even if he was, I would need to see a will,” Collin said, his voice taking on a slightly icy tone.
“I’m not letting my father die out here in the middle of nowhere. If you won’t bring me his belongings, I’ll take him without them. But I know approximately how much money he had left from the sale of the practice, and you won’t keep it.”
Geoff scowled. “I gave you each a share, and I had to pay off your mother’s hospital bills. What little is left will pay my bills. I’ve had around the clock care since I arrived.” Vince didn’t need any more money from him. He’d distributed a portion of the proceeds because his middle daughter had worked so hard for him, and she needed it. But the rest should go back to Hans Vita. It was only fair. He had even re-filed a will in Alexandria before he left, and he had a copy with his money. If Hans had taken the liberty to lock away his valuables then he knew about the will also.
“Come on,” Vince said. “We’re taking you to Alexandria. They’ll get you healed, and then you can stay with Misti. She’s already volunteered, and her husband has agreed.”
Probably with the promise of monthly funds from Vince.
“It is my recommendation that my patient be allowed to finish his noon meal in peace. It is also my recommendation that my patient not be dragged to Alexandria. The next heart attack could be his last.”
Kayden took Shanika’s hand. “Let’s go see Flash, Sweetheart.” She hesitated and looked back at Vince. “You really don’t know how long wingdeer take to consummate their union, do you? I assumed you were spending the night here, as they probably won’t be back until dusk.”
Geoff chuckled at Vince’s look of horror.
“Get her back here! I’ll have you charged with theft if you don’t.”
Collin gave Vince a wide grin. “Sorry. Nothing anyone can do about the calls of nature. Why don’t you relax?”
Vince pointed to his father. “You will be ready to leave in the morning.”
“I’ll show you to your room,” Collin said solicitously.
Geoff sighed and studied his fish. He wasn’t hungry, hadn’t been hungry. How could he show Vince he wasn’t going to be bossed around like a damn child? He raised his gaze to Quinn. “Tell me, young man. How soon can I be taken for surgery?”
Quinn grinned. “We can leave as soon as Collin informs Par.”
Michael smiled also. “We’ll hold down the practice and save a job for you.”
“I’m not a senile old man. I make my own decisions.”
“Of course,” Michael said. “Collin would have dragged you up there this morning if you didn’t.”
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.