The Egg, and Other Inconveniences
One day, Ejoler put his ear to the egg and announced, “It is going to hatch soon.”
It wasn’t a pronouncement Ejoler was entirely happy to make. He and Philip had been traveling together for nearly two years. If someone in the time before Philip had asked Ejoler if he would like a companion, much less a constant one, he couldn’t imagine his reply would have been anything less than disdainful — if he bothered replying at all. Ejoler was coming to understand that his imagination before meeting Philip had been rather limited. So, too, had been his definition of happiness. Because Ejoler was happy now, in a way that would have once seemed impossible.
Ejoler was a dragon and Philip was a man. Their respective kinds had been killing each other for centuries. And yet through magic, chance, and something more mysterious — love — they had found each other. Like all rare and precious things, Ejoler wanted to keep their life together safe and unchanged. It was a treasure and dragons believed in protecting their treasures.
Not that change wasn’t part of their lives. Ejoler had promised to show Philip the world and had so far only managed to visit a small part of it. They had walked through cities together — Ejoler in his human form — and lain on soft beds at night in each others’ arms. Other times they would make camp in the woods or in the mountains; on cold nights Philip would sleep beneath Ejoler’s wing, warmed by the near-inexhaustible heat of his body.
Last year they had sailed south on a ship — which had not been an entirely enjoyable experience because Ejoler discovered that as a man he was subject to seasickness. But the discomfort had been worth it because, once clear of human settlements, he had flown over the moonlit sea, with Philip on his back. Ejoler had caught silver-finned fish in his claws and brought them back to Philip to roast over a fire on a beach. Philip’s skin had grown bronze in the sun and the soft, drowsy nights had been perfumed by jewel-colored flowers.
Ejoler had always thought of his human form as a distasteful necessity — a way to move among the enemy undetected — but with Philip, he was glad to have arms that could hold, hands to touch, and especially lips to kiss.
They traveled north when the summer’s heat had grown unpleasant for Philip. A vein of sapphires in a snowy mountain range had called to Ejoler, sending a yearning through his blood. Treasure. They had found caves near a clear mountain lake and Ejoler had set about digging through the rocks with his claws to uncover the precious gems. Philip hunted and explored among isolated high mountain forests and at night they shared their discoveries while the stars glittered above them like scattered handfuls of diamonds.
Every few weeks or so, they would fly to an isolated spot outside a nearby village or town — carefully varying their patterns so as not to attract too much attention. There they would trade the uncut gems for gold coins or polished jewels, and buy the more mundane supplies they needed. Ejoler, who had been starting to feel anxious about the lightening of the sack that contained his modest wealth, breathed easier.
Not that Philip cared much for treasure. Ejoler would have lavished him with jewelry, but Philip was happiest when given an old book as a present, not even one with an especially pretty cover or gold-leaf illustrations. And nothing compared to his surprised delight when Ejoler flew back one day with a big copper bathtub in his claws. He’d bought it in town and then had to push it unsteadily in a wheelbarrow for some distance as a human, but that indignity was more than made up for by Philip’s reaction. The high mountain lake was too cold for bathing, so once the tub was filled, Ejoler would breathe fire on it — such a small flame wasn’t draining to him and good practice for his self-control. Philip would soak in the steaming water and the tub was large enough that Ejoler could climb in with him, though his human body was usually perfectly clean — he had magic to see to that, after all. Another benefit to being human was the feel of wet slippery skin against his own and the pleasant weight of Philip’s head lazing against his shoulder.
Truth be told, living in the cave was not ideal, at least not for Philip. He had to set up a cook-fire at the cave entrance so the smoke wouldn’t fill the cavern, and to heat the drafty space, Ejoler warmed rocks until they were nearly glowing, then set them around the cave. He used some of the sapphires to purchase rich rugs, furs, and bedding to fill as much of their living space as possible. While Philip never complained, he did sink gratefully into the furs every night and let Ejoler pay all manner of attentions to him until he was warm enough to either sleep or reciprocate.
The plan had been to travel to warmer climes again at the end of the summer, but then the egg had to go and ruin everything.
* * *
“We can’t move her,” Philip insisted. “What if the egg starts hatching in mid-air? Or somewhere with people around?”
Ejoler huffed a sigh. Philip peered at him curiously. He was always curious, something Ejoler usually found delightful.
“Where were you born, or hatched, or whatever?”
“It was a cave,” Ejoler admitted reluctantly.
Philip nodded. “See? This is traditional.”
He quizzed Ejoler constantly about the hatching process and the habits of baby dragons. Ejoler was reluctant to admit he didn’t know very much. Dragons were mostly solitary creatures and his only experience with hatchlings was being one himself. His sister, whose egg they now watched over, had hatched decades before Ejoler, and while her adolescent antics had seemed impossibly glamorous to him at the time, it hadn’t been long before she had flown off on her own. His mother and, occasionally his father, had taught him dragonlore, how to hunt, and the relative market values of different types of precious metals and gems — everything that was proper and necessary to be a dragon — except how to look after hatchlings. Or maybe they had and Ejoler hadn’t bothered to pay attention.
“Do we boil water?” Philip asked anxiously as he hovered over the egg. There was an audible thumping coming from inside and it rocked occasionally from side to side. “I don’t suppose we need milk? What will she eat?”
Ejoler raised his eyebrows. “We are dragons, not cows.”
Philip adjusted the nest of furs and blankets he had settled around the egg. The hazel eyes Philip raised to Ejoler’s were so anxious, that he let several more sarcastic remarks wither unsaid. “Dragons are born with teeth.” He put a hand on Philip’s shoulder. “My first meal was meat.”
Philip nodded and jumped to his feet. “Keep an eye on her,” he called over his shoulder as he rushed to the cave entrance.
Ejoler eyed the wobbling egg. “Please get on with it,” he muttered. “There is no need to drag this out all day.”
As if in response, a small crack appeared on the egg’s stone-like surface. Ejoler nodded in satisfaction and leaned back against some blankets. Philip all but hurtled back to kneel beside the egg. He had brought some venison that had been drying by the fire. He gasped happily at the sight of the crack.
“Should we help? Maybe pull it open a bit?”
“She has to do this on her own,” Ejoler said with authority, even though he had no idea. He just didn’t want Philip to get too agitated.
Philip settled back on his heels to watch. The crack widened slightly. He jerked his head up to stare at Ejoler. “You should change,” Philip whispered urgently. “She should see another dragon when she’s born, not two humans.”
Ejoler was perfectly comfortable at the moment and really didn’t want to have to get up. “She likes you,” he pointed out reasonably. “She sensed you even as she slept inside her shell and called to you in the keep.” He shrugged and wriggled back against the blankets. “Besides, I do not think she is in a position to judge appearances.”
“Please,” Philip said in a way that was not a request.
Ejoler didn’t bother to conceal his sighs, but he did get up off the soft blankets and move well back. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to release the magic that held his shape and return to his dragon form, but right now it was annoying.
“There,” he said, and rested his head on the ground so that one eye was close to Philip. “I am sure this will make a tremendous difference to her well-being.”
Philip ignored the sarcasm and reached up to stroke Ejoler’s snout. “Thank you.”
That was another thing that Ejoler would never have imagined — the feel of a hand against his scales. It was nice, not only because of the soft touch but also the trust it implied. He closed his eyes. Cats, Ejoler understood, would purr to show their contentment. It was not something dragons did, as far as he knew, but Ejoler was willing to give it a try.
The stroking stopped.
“Look!” Philip cried. “It’s happening.”
Ejoler opened his eyes and lifted his head. The crack was deepening and was joined by a few more. He could see a tiny clawed foot pushing a piece of shell away and then a head, dark and ungainly, shoving insistently up and into the air.
The egg split apart completely and in the wreckage lay a tiny dragon. Her scales were damp but Ejoler could see that they were black with a green and gold belly. Her wings were pressed tightly against her back, but her long tail uncurled from around her body and thrashed against the furs. That head, seemingly too large for the skinny neck that supported it, wobbled as it lifted and her eyes opened — just a slit, but enough to see flame-colored irises.
Her mouth opened. “Meep.”
“Oh,” Philip said hoarsely. Ejoler tilted his head to look more closely at him. Philip was crying.
Ejoler felt alarmed, Philip sad or disappointed was close to unbearable for him. “I am sure her looks will improve with time.”
Philip raised his face and somehow he was laughing and crying at the same time, which was not something Ejoler had thought possible. “She’s beautiful. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Ejoler relaxed somewhat, though that didn’t speak much for Philip’s sense of aesthetics. “She is likely hungry.”
“Of course.” Philip turned and grabbed the meat. The hatchling smelled it and her mouth opened wider now, revealing sharp teeth.
Philip cut the strips of venison into smaller morsels before carefully placing one in her mouth. The hatchling’s mouth snapped shut immediately.
Ejoler had a sudden memory of tearing through the tough hide of a freshly killed mountain goat for his first meal. Would the hatchling know the difference between Philip and food? “Do not put your hand too close.”
Ejoler lowered his head, ready to block the hatchling if she lunged at Philip, but she only opened her mouth and waited to be given more. That mouth opened again and again, as Philip cut more meat. She ate until her belly grew round and she finally lay back on the furs, eyes blinking sleepily.
Philip cleaned her carefully with a cloth and moved the pieces of the shell away, before wrapping her in a blanket. He settled the sleeping hatchling on his legs. She filled his lap completely already.
Philip began to sing, too softly for Ejoler to hear the words, but with the pureness of his tenor voice still coming through.
“What is that?” Ejoler asked.
“Something my mother used to sing to me when I very young.”
Ejoler shrugged back into his human shape and sat down next to Philip, putting an arm around him.
Philip leaned against him. “We never talked about names.”
“No? Well, I suppose we must call her something.”
“Did you want to name her after your sister?”
Ejoler frowned. “Ejderha? Why would we give her another’s name?”
“In some places, people name children after a person they were close to. It’s to honor and remember them.”
“That is not a custom among dragons.” Ejoler worried that he had sounded too cold so he added more softly. “What was your mother’s name?”
“Shall we call her Meira then? Would that be proper?”
The smile Philip lifted to him was radiant. “But only if that’s what you want, she’s your family.”
Ejoler stopped himself from frowning again; sometimes words he thought he knew had very different meanings to Philip. “Yes,” Ejoler said. “I do want that.”
Philip looked down at the sleeping hatchling. “Meira.”
“Meira,” Ejoler repeated and held Philip a little tighter.
* * *
Meira was a lot of work.
She ate constantly and when she was even slightly hungry she called out the most piteous cries, as though she had been starving for weeks rather than an hour. Getting her food required that either he or Philip be out hunting more — they couldn’t go together since Philip insisted that Meira not be left alone and, after she chewed on an expensive ermine fur, Ejoler came to agree.
It seemed like he and Philip were never alone together anymore. Even at night, Meira would start out safely asleep in her own nest of blankets but then would invariably end up crawling in between them.
Philip didn’t seem to mind any of it. He was always praising Meira’s most minor of accomplishments — like walking the width of the cave or taking a few exploratory flaps of her wings or even a particularly loud belch. Ejoler did his best not to roll his eyes at these times, even though it felt physically painful not to.
It wasn’t that he disliked Meira. She seemed intelligent — though her vocabulary hadn’t progressed beyond meeps and wails — and, once she got over that scrawny freshly-hatched look, she was a nice-looking dragon. It was just that whatever was causing Philip to beam and sing and simply stare at Meira like she was a wondrous thing was missing in Ejoler.
He did his best to conceal his lack of enthusiasm, but he could feel Philip’s eyes on him with a worried look. Ejoler thought they were building to a conversation about it, but, instead, one morning Meira nudged him awake.
It was early yet, close to dawn, and if she was hungry again, he was going to give her a stern lecture on self-control and its necessity in a young dragon. Her nudges turned to head butts and he opened his eyes in annoyance. Ejoler drew in a breath to start the lecture and then stopped because Philip — Philip smelled wrong. Not wrong as in unwashed, but like something else was inside of him, upsetting the balance of how his body worked.
“Philip?” Ejoler gently shook his shoulder. His skin was far hotter than usual. “Are you well?”
Philip opened glassy eyes. He coughed, turning his head away. “I must have a cold,” he said hoarsely. He shivered as he drew the blankets up higher around his shoulders. “Just let me sleep a while longer and I’ll be fine.”
Ejoler nodded uncertainly and pulled the squirming Meira away.
Philip did get up later in the morning and went about his usual chores. He made light of his cough and the occasional shivers that moved over his body, but he did let Ejoler take over the cooking for the day — the results were not disastrous but not much better — and sat in the sun outside the cave in his heaviest coat and with a blanket over his legs. Meira, apart from demands for food, sat with her head in Philip’s lap most of the day. Philip didn’t find it annoying and it certainly kept her out of trouble, so Ejoler was grateful for that.
Philip was a little more energetic the next day and Ejoler began to hope that it was indeed simply a passing cold. It was just another thing that humans did. They occasionally got sick and then they got better. That’s what would happen. It had to.
On the third morning, Philip didn’t get up at all. He lay among the blankets, feverish and pushing away the food that Ejoler urged on him. Ejoler sat and held his hand for a few moments before he stood.
He drew Meira to the cave entrance. “I am going to get medicine for Philip,” he said, though he had no idea if she understood. “Watch over him until I return and if — just watch him. I will be back as soon as I can.”
He turned away, shifting as he did, and spread his wings wide. He flew into the sky, not looking back at the tiny dragon at the mouth of the cave.
Ejoler flew as fast as his wings could take him. There was a town on the other side of the mountain range that he and Philip had been to many times before. The people there were used to solitary men prowling among the hills for sapphires and didn’t ask many questions when they visited. Philip had been to a healer in the town once, an old woman, to get powder for his occasional headaches. Ejoler had to hope that she had something that could help Philip now.
He folded his wings and dropped like a stone towards a clearing in the forest outside the town. Anyone looking up at that moment would have seen only a dark blur streaking downward. Ejoler almost wished someone would see and come at him with weapons and shouts. Any excuse to unleash the fury inside him. But he knew the anger was all at himself.
He had been the one to drag Philip to that cold and inhospitable place in the mountains, all to satisfy his own greed. He could blame Meira for keeping them there, but really why had Philip doted on the egg so much if not for Ejoler’s sake? It was Ejoler’s fault. He had failed to keep that which was most precious to him safe.
Ejoler ran from his landing place to the town, his lungs burning and his legs pumping against the unyielding ground. When he reached the old woman’s house and burst through the door, he couldn’t speak for long moments and just put his hands on his knees and panted. The gray-haired woman watched him calmly from a chair close to the fireplace.
“I take it this is a matter of some urgency?”
Ejoler glared up at her. Normally he appreciated dry humor. He did not now.
A more kindly smile creased her face. “Tell me what’s the matter.” A helpless look must have crossed his face because she added. “Just the important parts.”
It was important that Philip’s eyes were green and brown and gold all at the same time. Hazel was not enough of a word to encompass everything they held. He could study things like clouds, or leaves, or city streets and notice far more than Ejoler, with what he’d believed were superior senses, could ever comprehend. It was important too, that Philip asked so many questions. Ejoler would sometimes pretend to be annoyed by them, but really he was more often than not startled by all the things he had blindly accepted, but that Philip thought to examine. How could Ejoler convey that to him Philip was the most important person in the world?
He managed, somehow, to only talk about the symptoms of Philip’s illness and the old woman nodded sagely. “Aye,”she said. “Something like that was going around here not long ago.”
Rage flared in Ejoler. Had this place, these people, hurt Philip? He could burn the town, take vengeance — but he stopped the path of his thoughts and the growing fire in his belly. This was not the way. It was not what Philip would want.
Fortunately, the old woman had already stood up and turned away, so Ejoler didn’t have to worry that his eyes had betrayed him. She was moving around shelves stacked with jars and dried herbs with brisk efficiency.
“These you use to make a tea. Give it to him four times a day. He won’t like the taste, but make him drink a cup down each time.” She wrapped up a bundle of herbs in a cloth. “Now with this,” she said as she reached for more herbs, “you put a poultice on his chest to ease the coughing. I’ll show you how to make it.”
She added some fresh fruit as well, wrapping everything up in a large bundle, while Ejoler danced with impatience. She raised a sparse gray eyebrow at the gold coins Ejoler shoved toward her. “That’s too much.”
“Not if it works,” he said. “Then I will be in your debt beyond measure.” Ejoler grabbed the bundle and ran out the door.
* * *
His wings ached with effort as he reached the mountain lake. The cave entrance was empty and he skidded to a stop, shifting forms with a thought and scooping up the package of medicine to hurry inside.
The cave was quiet and something caught in Ejoler’s throat until he heard Philip cough from his bed of furs and blankets. Ejoler rushed forward but drew up abruptly when he saw, perched beside Philip, a small human girl.
She had straight black hair and light brown skin. The eyes she turned up to Ejoler were wide and dark. She was wearing what Ejoler recognized as one of Philip’s shirts and it completely enveloped her.
Philip opened his eyes at Ejoler’s voice and smiled weakly. “Look at her. See what she did?”
Ejoler knelt beside Philip and helped to prop him up on the pillows. “I do not understand.”
Philip reached out and stroked the girl’s hair. She regarded them both solemnly. “I must’ve been half-asleep. I was calling out for some water.” Ejoler cursed himself silently for not making sure there was water in reach. “And then there she was. Standing there and holding a cup. Such a good girl.”
He began to cough again and Ejoler jumped up. “I have medicine for you.”
Ejoler hurried over to the fire to start making the tea, leaving Meira sitting with her knees— her very human knees — drawn up under her chin as she stared at Philip.
Ejoler was shocked at her transformation. He had been at least a decade older than Meira the first time he had shifted and had been successful only after weeks of practice. He pushed all that aside and focused on getting Philip well.
He made the apparently very bitter-tasting tea, which Philip drank with considerable protest, and applied the poultice. It seemed then that Philip did breathe easier and his skin felt a bit less hot to the touch as he drifted back to sleep. There wasn’t much else to do for Philip except let him sleep until it was time to dose him again.
Ejoler looked up at Meira who had been silently watching everything. “You can change back now. It is all right, I am here.”
Nothing happened. Meira remained unchanged. Ejoler looked at her a while longer. Finally, he shook his head.
“You have to blink occasionally,” he said to her. “Humans find it disconcerting and your eyes will get dry if you do not.”
Slowly and deliberately, Meira blinked. So she did understand, she was just being stubborn for some reason.
“Fine,” Ejoler sighed, getting up. There were many things he had to do — food for Philip and Meira, blankets to wash, more tea to make. “Just try not to get in the way.”
* * *
Philip’s fever continued to drop and he slept better that night, not waking to cough as before. Within two days he seemed much like himself again, though still weak. He even smelled like himself — so much so that Ejoler had to prepare a bath for him. He happily washed the last traces of fever-sweat and illness from Philip’s skin.
Meira, though, remained unchanged. Philip cut a couple of his shirts into shifts for her, so she wouldn’t drag them on the ground or trip over the edges as she ran around the cave. She didn’t try to chew on everything anymore, but human hands were good for reaching and Ejoler had to watch her constantly to make sure she wasn’t pulling things over.
Human children were a lot of work, he was discovering. Meira didn’t eat as much in this form, which made for less hunting, but now all her food had to be cooked and cut up into human-sized bites. Then there was the bathing and the dressing and the de-tangling of her hair — all things that took three times as long as they should because Meira was constantly squirming away or getting distracted.
“It’s so strange,” Philip said, sitting up among the bedding as Meira stacked stones into piles near the cave entrance. “She’s not even two months, but she looks like she’s four or five years old.”
“Humans and dragons do not develop at the same rate,” Ejoler said, though he knew nothing about human infants beyond that they made a lot of noise and exhibited a disturbing range of smells. “But,” he admitted, “I do not understand how she was able to shift forms at such a young age.”
Philip flashed a grin. “Because she’s brilliant. She gets that from me.” His smile dropped. “Is it safe for her to stay like that? I know how grumpy you get if you can’t stretch your wings.”
Ejoler wanted to argue about the characterization of him as grumpy, which seemed undignified, but it was unusual that she was able to maintain her form for so long.
“There are some benefits to her being like this,” Ejoler said. Philip raised his eyebrows at that and Ejoler shrugged. “It will be far easier to fly out of here with both of you on my back. Then we could go somewhere and find a house. One with walls and a floor and a proper hearth to spend the winter in.”
“Won’t people ask questions about us?”
“I have found that people ask very few when you give them enough coins.” He took Philip’s hand. “We cannot stay here once the winter storms start.”
Philip couldn’t help but give a little shiver as he looked around the cave. “I want to go, I really do. But all the more reason for Meira to be able to control this. She can’t suddenly change back into a dragon when people are around — even you don’t have enough coins to cover that.”
Philip was looking at him pointedly and Ejoler gave a testy sigh. “I am not sure what I am supposed to do. She has seen me shift many times.”
“You need to spend time with her, Ejoler. To help her. You’re the only one who can.”
Ejoler looked away, thinking of all the things he had failed at recently. Philip leaned closer and tugged on Ejoler’s braided hair.
“What happened to me isn’t your fault.” Philip put a hand to Ejoler’s face, turning it toward him. “Listen, there are times when I’m going to get sick. Maybe not as bad as this, or maybe even worse. But it’s not something you can blame yourself for.”
Some of the differences between humans and dragons were harder to accept than others. He pressed his face against Philip’s neck so that his scent — clean and healthy — surrounded Ejoler completely.
Philip pulled back to look at him with great seriousness. “I know you don’t like to talk about this—”
“Then why discuss whatever it is now?”
“But,” Philip continued firmly, “you’re a dragon and I’m not.”
“I am quite certain I mention that a great deal.”
“You’re going to live for hundreds of years.” Philip smiled at him gently. “I won’t.”
Ejoler shook his head fiercely.
Philip gathered him close. “It’s all right.”
“Why are you comforting me?”
“I’ve had more time to get used to the idea of being human, I guess. You’re the one who has to go on.”
Ejoler gripped the sides of Philip’s face. “If I should lose you I will go to sleep. I will sleep for a thousand years and a thousand more — it will take that long until I cease to dream of you. Then the stone will claim me and I will return to the earth.”
Philip kissed his face. He kissed Ejoler’s eyes and cheeks and nose and finally his lips. Philip’s mouth was warm and alive, and Ejoler kissed him back as wildly as he dared.
“I love you,” Philip whispered against him, “and that was beautiful, but I need you to live.” Ejoler closed his eyes against the thought. “For yourself, and there’s Meira to think of now.”
His first instinct was to scoff but he found himself whispering, “She will leave me too.” She would fly off on her own one day, just as Ejderha had. Because that was the way of dragons — a solitary life — and now it seemed unbearable to him.
“Not for a while. And me neither if I can help it. Not for a long time.” Philip brushed Ejoler’s forehead.
“How long?” he asked desperately. “How long do I have with you?”
“Ejoler, I can’t say — fifty more years? Sixty, if I’m lucky.” He stopped and looked into Ejoler’s eyes. “A lifetime. I’m promising you a lifetime.”
Ejoler nodded. It would be enough. It would be everything. He kissed Philip until they were both dizzy.
Philip nuzzled him with rosy lips. “I’m going to get old and wrinkly you know. My looks won’t improve with time.”
Ejoler ran his hands through Philip’s hair, smiling as he pictured the curls touched with silver. “I think they will. You will always be beautiful to me. The most beautiful person in the world.”
Philip’s eyes were filled with tears as he smiled. It was very human but Ejoler understood. There were tears in his eyes too, but somehow he was happy as well.
* * *
He walked Meira to the edge of the lake, leaving Philip sitting in the sunlight near the fire. Her hand was very small in his and she picked her way carefully among the rocks.
“You would not have to worry about the stones if you were in dragon form,” he pointed out. She merely turned her face up to his and carefully blinked. Ejoler sighed. This was going to take a while.
He shifted from human to dragon and back again — trying to go as slowly as possible and doing his best to talk through each step. It was hard to know what to tell her. Ejoler had never given much thought as to how magic worked until he had met Philip. It was magic. It was as natural as breathing. Besides she had already done the hardest part — taking on a new form. It was difficult to understand why she couldn’t simply let it go.
Finally, he crouched down until his eyes were level with Meira’s — human face to human face. “The magic is inside you, no matter what shape you wear. It is part of you.” He picked up her hand. “Open or closed, human or clawed, it is still your hand. But right now you are like this.” He closed her fingers into a fist. Then he gently pried her hand open. “This is all you have to do. Let go.”
She bit her bottom lip as she hesitated. It was a gesture so familiar that Ejoler’s breath caught. He had seen Philip do the same thing many times. He stared at her, realizing how many of her expressions and the way she moved were small echoes of Philip’s.
He had expected Meira to look like his sister, of course, and by extension him, but he hadn’t realized that Philip would leave his mark too. That Meira, as much as she would be her own person, would also be someone they created together. She came from them. And she would live past them, carrying their love out into the wide world.
Ejoler put a hand to his chest. It seemed like he could feel something shift there, deep inside.
“You are not an obligation or an inconvenience,” he said more to himself than to her. “You are ours.”
She still looked uncertain and glanced toward the cave. To Philip. Ejoler felt like he understood. She had changed for Philip, after all. So had Ejoler.
“He will love you no matter what form you take. I promise.” She turned wide eyes back to him and Ejoler added. “As will I.”
She said his name the way Philip did. Of course, she did, that is how she learned his name, but it still made Ejoler smile a little. It was also, he realized, the first real word she had said.
“You can do it, Meira.” He stepped back as her body began to shimmer. “I know you can.”
As magical transformations went, it wasn’t quick or elegant, but after a few seconds, Meira lay panting on the gravel, her wings spreading limply around her.
Ejoler could hear Philip clapping and whooping. He bent down to stroke Meira’s dark, scaled head. “You did it.” Some part of him wanted to add that they were going to have to work on her shifting back and forth, but that was for later. Right now he just enjoyed the unexpected burst of pride. “I am proud of you.”
It was strange how natural this all felt. He looked from Meira to Philip. As natural as magic, as much a part of him as his heartbeat. They were his. Not like gold or jewels. People, not possessions, Philip was always reminding him. No, this was different, because Ejoler was as much theirs as they were his. Family, that was the human word for it, and this was his.
He picked Meira up with human arms, feeling her scaled neck hook over his shoulder and her tail wrap around his waist. She huffed out a tiny sigh and relaxed like she was completely safe and content. Ejoler understood the feeling. He carried her back to where Philip waited for them both.
Copyright © 2020 Hanna Dare. Although this is a free story, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied or distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.