Mia had to stay at the doctor’s a full week. His mother and Frank had already started working by that time, although Frank confided that Petri and Stella were not asking them to. But Amanda could not stand to do nothing when she was not with her little girl. And Frank spent his spare hours in the store and the stock room learning the stock and the procedures.
Twice a day Aben walked down to see Mia, often with Seavan. He brought her what he could, often little pieces of fur either to rub with her fingers, or rolled and tied into crude animal shapes. Seavan had shown him how to make toys like his father had made him when he was small.
She rarely spoke though, but she did one day when Aben came alone. His parents weren’t there either. “I want to go home with you,” she whispered.
Aben held her little hand, mostly bones now. “Mom and Dad don’t live on the farm anymore. They’re at Neville’s store.”
“I’m scared,” she admitted, her voice still a whisper. “You saved me. I know you did. You can fight dragons.”
“I’ll live just a little ways away. You can see me every day now.”
“Why can’t you live with us? I want you to live with us.”
“Because I have a job. I make money to buy your toys with. And you can go to school now,” he reminded her. “My friend Jimmy will walk to school with you, and no one will hurt you. You’ll see Queenie every day on the way home.”
He told Seavan about the conversation later, and he agreed Aben should try to see Mia as much as possible after she left the doctor’s clinic to reassure her.
On the fifth day of her stay with the doctor, the doctor let Mia come to the window to see Queenie outside. And Queenie was the first one she wanted to hug when she was released two days later.
After Mia went home, though, Dan began taking a more active part in Aben’s training. Often he told Seavan things like, “Make sure he knows that you treat the hides differently for Ken Solan. Make sure he knows which hides we choose for him.” And then when he’d bring home a less common animal hide, he’d say, “I want Aben to do this one. Make sure he does it right.”
But still he was able to see Mia each day. He also saw his mother and Frank often, and they appeared to be relaxing in their new home.
Dannel came within three weeks, right in time for dinner. “So do you know when Seavan will come back with me?”
Dan scowled. “I thought I said it’d take a few months. Not until early spring.”
“I just thought that Aben the wonder tanner would have learned it all by now,” he teased.
“Early Spring. Not before,” Dan said firmly.
The next day as the three of them brushed the wingdeer, Dannel asked, “You ever see that girl?”
“What girl?” both Aben and Seavan asked at the same time.
“You know. The one having trouble with her uncle.”
“Oh, her.” Aben had almost forgotten about Cassie. He still didn’t think he could do anything. He shrugged. “No. She’s out at Dyami’s farm. He said she needed to be married off or taken far away. I’m not prepared to do either of those things, so what good would it do for me to sneak over and see her? Probably just get her into trouble with her uncle.”
“Talked to my mom. She’s willing to see if she’s apprentice material for seamstress. If she’s not, she could use her as a maid. My mom is decent.”
“What do you suggest? We sneak her out, and you fly off with her?”
Seavan laughed. “Don’t let Shalina hear you. She’ll think you’re planning to have your way with her.”
“He’s engaged,” Aben reminded Seavan.
“I wouldn’t take Aben’s girl, regardless.”
“She’s not my girl. I only talked to her once.”
“Don’t tell Shalina that,” Dannel teased. “I bet she likes you, too, and you can make her jealous with a few innocent references to that conversation.”
“We were talking about suicide,” Aben said, irritated. Back on Luna he’d never heard of anyone being forced into an arranged marriage, and he wouldn’t be here. “I stopped her, and then we were attacked by a dragon. Not exactly something to share at the dinner table.”
“I’m leaving day after tomorrow. If you want her to go with me, you sneak her out tomorrow night.” He shrugged. “So, is Jimmy still bringing all his friends home after school?”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
That night Seavan asked, “Are you going to go talk to her?”
Aben lifted up on his elbow to face Seavan’s bed. “I should at least offer her the choice, shouldn’t I?” He lit the lamp and then withdrew his papers from the bottom of the box now under his bed. He showed Seavan Cassie’s letter.
Seavan read through it. “Yeah. You have to offer it to her. We’ll go over there tomorrow.”
Aben put his papers away and blew out the lamp. “I can’t believe we’re actually going to get her out of there.” He had a hard time sleeping, trying to plan the rescue, although there wasn’t a lot he could really plan.
When they went out to his farm the next afternoon, Seavan and Aben asked to talk to Dyami alone. After he shut them into a small office in the barn, Dyami sat on the edge of the desk. “So what can I help you boys with today?”
“Remember, Sir, when we talked about Cassie Handel?”
Dyami nodded. “Are you ready to get married?”
“No, Sir, but Seavan’s aunt can give her an apprenticeship in Alexandria. If he is hurting her, then we thought we should give her the option to become independent.”
Mr. Dyami slowly nodded. “Yes. That is an option. But she is not free to travel. How would she get there?”
“My cousin would fly her out of New Haven tomorrow morning,” Seavan said.
“So you have it all worked out.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments. “But she’s still his dependent. I can’t be seen taking her away. You’ll have to speak with her and make your arrangements. I can tell you that in one hour she will take a snack to the men in the field. She will be alone walking to and from the field. It is mostly open except for that windbreak to the south.” He stood. “The rest is up to you.” He opened the office door. “It was good seeing you again, Seavan. I’ll bring in those hides as soon as I get the meat stored.”
Seavan and Aben started home and then snuck through the woods until they made it to the wind break that Dyami had spoken of. Then they waited.
As she walked toward them, Aben could see that she had the same bowed steps she’d had before. But something had changed. Her ragged jacket blew open, revealing her rounded stomach. She was pregnant. “The bastard!” Aben whispered, furious. “He’s allowed to do that?”
“Might not have been him. Could have been anyone,” Seavan reasoned.
“Dannel will still take her, won’t he?”
“We’ll make sure he does.”
“Cassie,” Aben called from the trees.
She started and stared warily toward them. Then she began backing away.
“Cassie. It’s me, Aben. Remember me? Remember your letter?”
She glanced toward the field where she’d been headed, and then she ran to them. “Aben! I heard you’d been in trouble.”
“Yeah, but Seavan, here, rescued me.” He gripped Seavan’s arm a moment. “But do you still want to get away from here?”
“Where? If I run away and he finds me, he’ll….” She touched her stomach and backed away. “I can’t go anywhere now. He’s right about that. No one would want me.”
“Hey,” Seavan said softly. “My aunt needs some help in Alexandria. Either seamstress or cleaning, depending on how good you are with the needle. Do you want it?”
“But… but….” She touched her stomach. “She won’t kill it, will she? He says he will… that anyone would… I can’t….” Tears filled her eyes. “I hate him, but I can’t….”
Aben drew her into his arms. “Hey, Cassie. It’ll be all right. I’m sure Dannel’s mother would not want anyone to lose their baby.” Although he’d thought Lena Archer would have had a bit more compassion on his mother after her trouble, but at least in Alexandria she’d be away from her despicable uncle.
Seavan glanced across the field. “Look, Cassie. Dannel leaves in the morning. If you want to go with him, meet us out behind your house right before dawn, and we’ll get you safely to the wingdeer.”
“Wingdeer? I’d be flying? On your wingdeer? I heard you had one.”
Aben smiled. “No. Queenie is too small yet. Dannel’s wingdeer. It’s not a long trip that way, and Dannel is a nice guy. He rescued me one time, too.”
She pulled away from him then, blushing. “Right before dawn behind the house. I’ll be there.” Then she scurried away across the field.
Seavan and Aben silently made their way back to the road. “She’s got a crush on you so bad, she’d drink poison for you.”
“So. You act like I should do something about it.”
Seavan cuffed his arm. “Nope. I don’t belong to Dannel’s school of conquest. Wait until you’re ready for marriage, and then choose the one you think you can live with the easiest. At least that’s my plan. That’s what my dad said he did.”
“It looks like your parents have a bit more passion than that.”
Seavan grinned. “Never said you couldn’t be attracted to the woman.”
“But you haven’t found anyone.”
Seavan shook his head, his smile leaving. “There are a few I’m keeping my eye on, waiting until we all get a little older, you know. When I could build my own home, or get one close by….” He shrugged. “Just not quite ready yet. Of course now things are turned upside down. Probably never see them again.”
“Maybe you won’t have to worry about it, and Uncle Ulan will choose you a nice wife,” Aben teased.
“Don’t even think about it! No! I will not let anyone else choose my wife. Never!”
Aben guessed then that it was one of Seavan’s big fears about going south. “Hey. Just teasing. He learned his lesson with your dad, right?” They reached the tannery, and Aben went back to the barn to let Queenie out. He hadn’t wanted her following him to Dyami’s.
That night the three of them gathered in Seavan’s room, and Aben warned Dannel that Cassie was pregnant. Dannel swore.
“Your mom will help her still, won’t she?”
“Yeah. Probably take even greater interest now. It’s her hobby, helping mistreated women recover and have meaningful work. We’ve got a few other kids running around, getting in the way.”
“Like yours will,” Aben couldn’t help teasing.
Dannel grinned then. “Yeah. Guess it’s not so bad. She’s even got two girls who only teach and watch the kids. You should see how she’s got her section of the carriage house set up. Dad teased her about it being more of a mansion than a factory. But he doesn’t care. Think he’s proud of what she does. Unlike when I provide jobs for people….” He shook his head. His smile momentarily leaving. But then it returned. “We rescue the maiden, er, girl in distress, at dawn then. We better get some sleep.” He left for his room with Jimmy.
They slept little, but Seavan was the one to shake Aben awake. “Let’s sneak out there now.”
They walked silently to the edge of town. Aben caught a glimpse of something in the sky to the west, and he pulled Seavan against the trunk of the tree. “Dragon. Stay still,” he whispered.
When Aben felt it was safe they moved quickly, staying now in the shadows near safety. They made it behind Dyami’s house and settled in to wait behind the small outbuilding.
“You really have a sense for those dragons,” Seavan whispered. “Dannel wants to be Hans’ apprentice, but you’d be a natural.”
Aben gave a small laugh. “Aben, the dragon slayer. Now who’s daydreaming. Besides he’d choose Dannel way before he’d choose me. He doesn’t even know me.”
“Sure, you met….”
Aben shook his head, still mad at himself. “He never asked my name, and I never thought to volunteer. He just rescued someone too slow to get out of way of a falling dragon. He will never think of me when he thinks of apprentices.” Then he grinned. “Besides, I would have to turn him down. I’m committed to be your apprentice.”
Seavan chuckled. “Aben, master tanner, or Aben, the dragon-slayer. Choices, choices.”
“One I’ll never have.” He saw Cassie emerge from the house timidly. She looked toward the woods but didn’t see them. Then she gazed up into the sky, cringing. She carried only one small burlap bag — apparently all her belongings.
Aben stood and motioned to her. “Cassie!” he called in a loud whisper.
She ran to him and then clung to him. The embrace startled him, and he wasn’t sure where to put his hands. Seavan grinned and shook his head. Aben tried not to smile at Seavan’s teasing when he knew Cassie was just scared and needed reassurance.
Gently Aben touched her waist and pushed her away from him. “We’ve got to hurry now.” He grasped her hand and led her through the woods until they made it to the road just outside the city limits. The sun rose before them, shooting its rays through purple clouds.
“A dragon!” Her screech echoed into his ear.
Aben crouched and scanned the sky. Then he relaxed. The beast was far to the north of them and heading north. “Hush, and it won’t hear us. Come on.”
She followed him silently after that.
They were almost home when Seavan nudged him and then gave a slight motion to Cassie. The girl had tears streaming down her face. He stopped them and faced her, drawing out his handkerchief and brushing her cheek. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked softly.
She shook her head.
“Are you scared? I know it’s hard to leave everyone you know.”
She took his handkerchief and wiped her face. “I want to leave,” she sniffed.
“Then what is it?” he asked softly.
“You were mad.”
“The… the dragon….”
Aben glanced at Seavan as he firmly kept his impulse to roll his eyes in check. “No. I wasn’t upset. It’s just that we’re safer when we speak softly. I don’t want you to be hurt by screaming again, that’s all.”
She gave a meek nod, staring at the bricks in the road.
Aben took her arm and started them moving again. “We’re almost there.”
Dannel had Skyler saddled and was waiting just outside the barn. He gave Cassie a grin. “Nice day for flying, but it gets pretty cold in the air this time of year. I was afraid you wouldn’t have a decent jacket.”
Cassie’s lips trembled, and she looked at Aben in horror, perhaps afraid she’d have to go back to her uncle for punishment.
But Aben rubbed her arm. “Quit teasing, Dannel. She’s too scared to appreciate that you’re about to generously loan her that bright green ladies jacket lying on Skyler’s back.”
Dannel snatched the green dragon hide jacket. “Hey. What do you know? And it looks about your size, too.”
Limply the girl let Aben help her out of her ragged jacket and into the new one.
Dannel folded her jacket into her burlap bag and then stuffed it inside a dragon hide one, attaching it to Skyler’s saddle above his wings. Then Dannel climbed up into the saddle and leaned down. “Hand her on up.”
Cassie’s gaze shot quickly from Dannel to Aben. “You are coming, right?”
“No. I can’t.”
“But I want to be with you.”
Dannel grinned. “Ready for marriage, ‘Ben?”
Aben rolled his eyes and reached for her waist to help her up.
Cassie vaulted into his arms. “I love you, Aben.”
Seavan and Dannel almost doubled up with silent laughter.
Aben tried to ignore them. “Look, Cassie, I’m only fifteen. You go with Dannel, and let his Mom help you and your baby.” When she still didn’t let go of him he added, “I can’t go. My job is here. Now you must go before your uncle finds you.” He tried to push her away and finally succeeded.
“Will I see you again?”
“Sure,” Dannel said. “He’ll probably come down to Alexandria in the spring for my wedding.”
This time she let Aben help her up to sit in front of Dannel. As soon as she was strapped on, Dannel waved. “See you next month.” And Skyler jumped into the air.
Aben and Seavan watched until they disappeared, and then Seavan laughed. “Want me to watch out for your girlfriend when I go south?”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” Aben growled. Then he grinned. “Which girls were you eyeing? I’ll give you reports.”
Seavan laughed again. “Let’s get breakfast before we’re forced to rescue anyone else. Never had so many rescues until I met Aben the dragon-slayer.”
Aben cuffed his shoulder. “Seavan the daydreamer.” They went inside to start the work day.
The End of Aben & the Dragon
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© 2013, 2000 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.