Hastings Covert, England. 1806.
Eric had been to Hastings before. After all, he had grown up not too far from it, in the small town of Westfield. He had accompanied his father to the city once, when they went to deliver a shipment of dried meats to the local pub and run a seemingly never ending list of errands for his mother.
He had, however, never been to the dragon covert just outside of the cities parameters. In fact, he had never really seen a dragon up close before he had somehow found himself in the possession of one.
He hadn’t meant to become the dragon’s handler, really. It was just his sort of luck that right when the egg some boys from the village had found – through what means they never cleared up – in the forest decided to hatch, he had been walking by and stopped to watch. Seeing the hardened shell of the egg crack first, and a creature the size of a horse but decidedly more scaly and definitely winged broke it’s way out. The first thing it did was blink at the sun, the second thing it did was turning right towards where Eric was holding the leg of a freshly butchered pig.
“May I have that?” the creature had asked, in a deep and slightly rumbling voice. It had startled all the village boys but one backwards. The last boy, a foolish young lad by the name of David, held out a clumsily tied rope towards the dragon. The dragon merely flapped its wings, still slightly wet and somewhat translucent, a few times and then lifted a paw to move him out of the way. It instead moved to sit on it’s haunches in front of Eric.
“May I have that food you’re holding?” it repeated, taking a moment before adding: “Please?” For some reason, the dragons attempt at politeness had startled a giggle out of Eric.
“My father will be awfully upset if I give it to you,” he said, clutching a little closer to the dead chunk of meat, “If you come with me, I’m sure you could ask him yourself.”
The dragon seemed content enough with that, lowering itself back on all fours.
“Very well,” it said, suddenly reaching out to put Eric on its back, “I will carry you.” Eric could only just catch the rope David threw him before the dragon spread it’s wings and attempted to fly off, only to crash after getting barely six foot up into the air. Eric had on reflex wrapped his arms around the beasts neck, eyes wide with panic when they hit the ground again.
“Maybe,” he said, doing his best to keep his voice calm, “Maybe we should walk? And I could put this rope around you so people will not fear you as much. If you would like.” He had heard a visiting aviator mention how wild dragons should be harnessed before fed if one wished to keep them from going feral and ravishing an entire village for dinner. Besides, Eric was sure once he harnessed the dragon he could pass it off at the nearest covert and they would find a very suitable captain for it.
Well, joke’s on him. Apparently, putting a beast in harness makes one fully responsible and in charge of said beast, and the beast itself mightily attached to it’s new captain.
So that was how he found himself the captain of a young Anglewing he had named Ganymede. His parents hadn’t been pleased, and he was fairly certain he had heard his parents argue over how he would surely never marry now, not with a dragon in the picture and how he might see battle with Napoleon stirring up trouble on the main land. His mother, however, seemed mostly upset about him never delivering any grandchildren.
He doubted she would have gotten those even if he hadn’t been forced to join the dragon force.
And so, after countless of meetings with Admirals, aviators, dragon surgeons, tailors and dragons who all bossed him around, Eric was proclaimed fit for duty and was sent to meet his formation at Hastings.
For the most part, he got along with them rather well. They were an odd and loud bunch but good people. He had met Captain Knight first, when he had jumped from the back of his Yellow Reaper – Boudica- mid-landing and landed face first in a pile of dragon dung. The moustached man had proceeded to laugh and after having had a bucket of water dumped over him had held out his hand to Eric and introduced himself with a thick Welsh accent as “Shitty. This happens more often than you think, yes.”
Then there were Captain Oluransi and his first Lieutenant Birkholtz, both from an orphanage in Birmingham, who had been trained up together since they had come to the covert at age 6 and 7 respectively. They hardly left each other’s side, so when Oluransi had been made captain of a newly hatched Chequered Nettle named Ceres, he hadn’t hesitated a moment before asking Birkholtz to be his first lieutenant.
The other two captains he had met not long after his arrival were Captain Chow and Captain Tangredi. Christopher Chow was in the captain of a relatively small blue shaded dragon named Shark. He had been a young boy, barely 10 when the egg had hatched, and he admitted he had thought his dragon had been an actual shark at fist. But by the time he had exclaimed his initial impression and put a harness on the dragon, the damage had been done and so his dragon went by Shark.
Tangredi, on the other hand, had named his small, common Grey Copper Prometheus. When Eric had asked how he had come to pick such a name, Tangredi had shrugged and said: “I hoped it would make him breathe fire. But it’s alright, really, I wouldn’t change him for the world. Hey, why is yours named Ganymede?”
The captain who had surprised Eric most had been captain Duan. At first he had thought captain Duan was just very young, but had quickly been corrected when Knight had come in and loudly bellowed “Larissa! How was Africa, you fucking legend?!” Eric had spend a good few minutes staring, trying to figure out if Duan was indeed Larissa, and if so, why nobody seemed more concerned with having a woman in a military setting. When he had tried to bring it up, captain Zimmermann had sternly told him Longwings only take female captains.
Captain Zimmermann. Tall, Irish, serious, Captain of the heaviest and oldest dragon in their formation, a Parnassian by the name of Augustus. Oh, and he had decided to hate Eric’s guts the moment their eyes had met. Eric wasn’t even sure why. It might have something to do with him replacing their former formation member who had not made it out of Trafalgar, or perhaps with the rumours circling that Eric had taken Ganymede from an actual capable aviator all for his own.
Either way, Jack had barely spoken a word to Eric in the two weeks he had been there. He tried to pretend it didn’t bother him, but as he was polishing the straps of Ganymede’s harness, the dragon coiled himself around Eric.
“I could squash captain Zimmermann for you,” the dragon suggested, “I am big enough now.” It was true Ganymede had grown an tremendous amount in the four or five weeks since his hatching, now closer to the size of a two very large elephants stacked on top of eachother than to that of a large horse. Even so, Eric was fairly certain squashing their formation leader wouldn’t go very well.
“There is no need,” he insisted, reaching out to pat Ganymede’s side, “Besides, Augustus is still very much larger than you are. We don’t want trouble.” Ganymede let out an angry huff at that, letting his jaws snap angrily.
“I do not like how he makes you unhappy,” the dragon informed Eric, “He ought to treat you better, or I shall eat more and grow bigger than Augustus, and then squash him.” Eric dropped the harness strap wondering for the millionth time what he had gotten himself in to.
“No squashing,” he said, pointing the cloth he had been polishing with at Ganymede, “No matter what. And he doesn’t make me unhappy, it’s fine. He doesn’t like me, which is also fine. I’m fine. I don’t need him to like me, I have the boys and I have you.” He took a deep breath, hoping Ganymede would let the subject rest. Of course, all hope was futile when arguing with a dragon.
“I do not believe you,” Ganymede informed Eric, uncoiling himself a little as to better look at his captain, “Why, only yesterday when we were practising those boring formations, he used the big trumpet to tell you to stop dropping like a coward. You are not a coward. And then after, he said you needed to be a better captain for me, but you are the best captain and he is terrible. I would not want him for my captain, and I do not understand why Augustus agreed to it even if his former captain is captain Zimmermann’s father. Oh, and do you remember when we went flying only two days ago and were caught in a storm and then he yelled at you because your uniform was ruined? And when –“
“That’s quite enough,” a voice from the side of their clearing came, and Eric let out a cuss before rushing to get up and clambering over Ganymede’s tail. He found himself eye to eye with Captain Zimmermann, who looked seething. “Put on your coat,” he said, “We need to talk. Now.” Eric quickly scrambled to pick up his green aviator’s coat from where he had put it on a stool and quickly bit Ganymede goodbye- the beast replied with a low rumbling that sounded a suspicious amount like “Squash him” - before hurrying after Jack towards the common dining area.
He found Jack already seated by the unlit fireplace, arms crossed and staring at the wooden mantle. Someone had begun to carve a dragon into it but had apparently given it up halfway through, leaving the mantle now decorated with a very ugly salamander.
“You wished to see me?” Eric asked nervously, before realising Jack wasn’t actually higher in rank than he was, and sitting down in the opposite chair. Jack gave a nod, leaving a minute or two of silence before speaking.
“During formations you keep ducking and slowing down whenever a larger dragon drops from above,” he said, “It’s a problem and we need to fix it. I know Ganymede is young and you are inexperienced, but Napoleon is on our doorstep and we cannot afford a risk like this.” He turned to look at Eric directly now, his frown only deepening. Eric sank deeper into the cushioned chair, folding his legs and curling his hands into fists.
“With all due respect,” he began, “We are working on it. But surely you understand, the first time you flew with Augustus in formation you must have been scared too.” Of course, Jack had been on dragonback since he was four years old.
Not even deigning Eric with a response, Jack continued: “I will wake you tomorrow morning at five. We will practise the dropping until you no longer flinch. Understood?” The look he levelled Eric with didn’t leave any room for protest, so Eric gave a meek noise of confirmation. Jack nodded and stood up.
“I will see you at dinner,” he said, turning to leave, “Oh- And Eric, tell your beast I do not hate you, so he can stop threatening to squash me.” The corners of his lips twisted into a small smile, leaving Eric dumbfounded and staring at Jack’s retreating back.
Had Captain Jack Zimmermann just tried to crack a joke?