The police officer sidled his dracon up to the covered taxi to speak with the driver for a moment. It was an unusual style of horse drawn vehicle and he wanted to make sure the driver knew how to treat the traffic laws because of it.
He was just leaning to glance inside when his mount suddenly lashed out at the cart. He was stunned at the uncharacteristic action of the normally calm beast, but the screams galvanized him into action.
He tried steering the snake-like head away, but he was like a flea for all the success he had. He jumped to the ground to push the beast away from yet another attack, but found that he needed to jump aside or be added to the carnage.
The carriage driver had died when a vicious lash of the dracon’s tail crushed the double team of horses into the front of the wagon. The carriage wheel was the victim of the next attack from the inches long teeth driven by the six-foot long neck the size of a tree trunk. The officer considered himself lucky to have been able to leap aside.
He was now feeling really quite small standing beside the raging beast, and his saddle was completely out of reach overhead. Then he realized that the only way to stop the rampage was to kill it. He drew his sword and began to slash at the head and neck as it kept mindlessly diving after the carriage over and over again.
Four slashes later the beast he’d ridden for ten years was dead, but the carriage had been mangled beyond recognition and blood was everywhere.
As he stood there in shock, the two passengers of the carriage were hustled away to the closest doctor, and several street officers converged to direct spectators away so others could try to piece together what had happened.
Through all the chaos, the first officer could only focus on one thing – a wing. The passengers had been Airyians, the winged people from high in the mountains. He’d only ever seen one once. It was rumored that they had a very low opinion of average people.
When they brought the two Airyians in, Ephraim knew he had his work cut out for him. The woman was cut, scraped, and bruised up, but the man was decidedly much worse for the abuse. One wing had been bitten away and the other one looked to be mangled; he wasn’t too sure he’d be able to save it, but really, what would be the point of saving one wing? It wasn’t like a missing leg or arm where mobility was only slightly inconvenienced. A missing wing meant no flying – none whatsoever.
Nonetheless, Ephraim struggled to mend the damage. Damage to the wings was only part of the problem. A few drops of Claudiak on a cloth lightly draped across the nose and mouth numbed the body to quiet so he could work while his wife tended the woman.
Hours later the wing stump was removed and the gaping hole closed up. Also associated with that particular wound, the gashes across that arm and shoulder were stitched up. He’d come close to losing that arm too.
He was standing back, stretching his back, and taking the opportunity to drink some water when the Airyian woman stepped in. One arm was in a sling and copious bandages covered her wings. She supported herself on the doorjamb, but she was standing and whole. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Trying to decide whether to save the one wing or not.”
“Is he going to die?”
“No. Dracon saliva cauterizes the bites. Efficiency and all that. I guess they evolved so that nothing leaked away. Waste not, want not, you know.”
She shrugged. “I’ve summoned my guards. As soon as they get here, I’ll be going home. My errand is now pointless. For him – I recommend you take off that other wing. There’s no difference between losing one and losing both. The damage has been done.”
There came a pounding at the door, and a moment later two tall Airyian soldiers stepped into view. Had the young man lying on his table worn some of that armor, he might have fared a little better.
The older man stepped over to the table. He looked closely at the young man’s face, and then frowned at the damage – that that was fixed, and that that wasn’t yet. He also took notice of the bloody stump that was in a tray off to one side (there was no mistaking what it was). Then he took a moment to study Ephraim, scrutinizing his bloodied apron. After looking him hard in the eyes, the man left, taking the woman with him.
Ephraim was happy to see them go. He was glad he’d been able to help them, but he’d never been around such arrogant people. Not the slightest gratitude for the work he and his wife had done in an effort to minimize the scarring. He wondered if they even thought to compensate them for the supplies they’d used up, but Safire, his wife, stepping in answered that question.
“Strange people.” She tossed him a bulging leather purse. “The big guy said he’d be in touch, but he said it where that woman couldn’t hear. I don’t like her. How are you doing here?”
“Okay, I guess. Just a lot of work.” He sighed. “Time to get back to it. This is going to take all night.”
It was well after midnight before the damage that could be reached without turning the patient was finished. In preparation for the rollover, they arranged several pillows to take most of the pressure off where his wings used to be. Peripheral damage was extensive, but they did the best they could.
With no real alternative to the pain management of Claudiak, he was kept under for almost two weeks to allow for healing. Then they needed to work the Claudiak out of his system. It was an ugly process akin to skinning a person alive, or so it seemed to the addict. Though it cleansed from the system fairly quickly, leaving no residual cravings, reaching that point took patience and determination, something this particular patient had none of.
During his brief lucid moments, they learned very little about their patient, but as they started working to wean him off Claudiak, he at least was more talkative, that is, he was when he wasn’t writhing in pain or hurling curses at whoever was closest. They did, however, learn his name. Aaiún, which he said translated to something like spring, meaning the beginnings of a water flow.
Since the drug was so addictive, it was another two weeks before they could convince him to try doing without entirely. He refused to believe that it was the drug demanding use rather than his actual need; he had plenty of stitches and bandages to convince him otherwise. Ultimately Ephraim’s wife, Lassa, went to the apothecary and returned with a tea. They made him drink it until he made a comment about feeling like he was wrapped in wool.
“Good,” said Safire. “With luck, that will get you past the stage where your nerve endings learn how to work properly again.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Aaiún. “There’s nothing wrong with my nerves. I hurt all over.”
“No, there isn’t anything wrong with your nerves, but it’s like when your foot goes to sleep because you were sitting wrong and circulation was cut off. All your nerves have been stifled by Claudiak for weeks now, and without it, they’re all abuzz, rather loudly, I would assume.” She poured him another cup of tea. “A couple days of this should see you back, right as rain in no time.”
He grimaced and pushed the cup away then winced when he moved a bit too far too fast.
“Come on now,” Safire chided gently. “You’re not some pampered prince who can’t take his medicine.
He sighed and took the cup. The bandages around his shoulders helped to remind him to curtail motion, but he still messed up all too often. “I have never been pampered,” he said as he downed the contents of the cup as fast as the temperature would allow.
Noticing his hostess staring at him, he realized what he’d just said, or more accurately, what he’d not said. He sighed and looked away. “Okay, I admit it. I used to be a prince, until you took away my wings. Now, I’m a nobody.” He set the cup aside on the nearest surface and then tried to roll away, but hissed when he moved wrong. “I’m not even a grounder.”
“What’s a grounder?” asked Safire as she tried to help him ease the ache he’d just generated.
He studied her for a minute, but she only smiled and pushed a hair out of his face. “You are. You and Ephraim and the others. You are. Sorry, but you are, after all…grounded.”
Her face lit up with true humor as she caught on. “Oohhh here I was trying to imagine some kind of rodent or bug, the way you said the word. I don’t know what everything is called yet.”
“Yet? How long have you been here?” asked Aaiún.
Her eyes searched the ceiling as she counted the time that had sped by so quickly. “Oh my, has it really been that long?” she said to herself. Returning her attention to her patient, she said, “I’ve been here for almost five years already. It’s so refreshing to tend people who have real problems, I lost track of the passage of time. I met Ephraim here when I first came to apply. At first I stayed in the spare room, but we hit it off so well. Well… We were married less than a year later. I chatter too much. You sleep now. This tea will make you lethargic, but that’s a good thing.” She gently petted his hair away from his face and he quickly dropped off to sleep.
Claudiak – addictive drug used to numb pain. Turns lips blue.
Dracon - police mount used for traffic control – looks like a cross between an alligator and a giraffe – long but thick agile neck – long but very thick legs – sloping back – alligator tail – alligator mouth with much bigger teeth. Saliva cauterizes wounds to prevent blood loss.
Ephraim – local doctor.
Safire – Ephraim’s wife
Airyians – winged race. Lives in the mountains. Don’t like normal humans, but deals with them upon occasion.
Aaiún – Airyian prince disfigured by loss of his wings