Rupert Giles is tired, and while not exactly old – he is, after all, only just on the wrong side of forty – watching all these young ensigns run to and fro is rather exhausting. It has been three weeks since he flew up from London, on the back of a friendly Reaper with the most interesting color variations, and he is only just getting used to the hustle and bustle of Loch Laggan.
“Alright there, sir?”
He spares a brief smile for ensign Rowland, one of the few persons – of any age – he has met since arriving that seems to subscribe to any sort of decorum. “Fine, thank you, perhaps you might refresh the water?” he tilts his head to indicate the stoneware pitcher, dripping with condensation, that sits between him and the anxious would-be Captain on his right.
“Of course, sir! Right away, sir!”
Rupert sighs and scrubs at his eyes as she scurries away. The steamy heat that permeates the combined bathing area/ hatchery has made wearing his spectacles impossible, and he is developing a bit of a headache both from concentrating on the eggs lined up against the wall and attempting to keep his meticulous notes from getting soggy. After another half-hour and two more refills of the pitcher, he gives up on the notes and settles back in his chair to concentrate on taking it all in.
He had not always wanted to be a naturalist. His father was, and his father before him, along with quite a few of his various cousins and uncles. Giles men were students of the earth, when they were not doctors, always concerned with what and how and why. Rupert’s childhood had been filled with visits to various parts of the world, the African continent was as familiar to him as the southern parts of Wales where his mother’s family made their home – and the less said about his visits to both, the better.
He had wanted to join the navy, or maybe be a farmer – but neither were suitable occupations for a Giles. If he could not escape the yoke of science and discovery, then he would at least specialize in something he found interesting, even if it did scandalize his mother’s family.
Which brought him to the present, here at Loch Laggan, the largest of Britain’s dragon coverts, to watch the hatching of the second Kazilik to grace the country’s shores. The first was already in harness, and proving her usefulness every day against Napoleon’s forces at the channel. The third, a still-soft egg sitting in a warming bed not fifteen feet away, was not likely to hatch for another six months – possibly longer. The trading with the Turks had gone splendidly well, likely due to the influence of the Chinese. Giles had heard vague things about a debacle a few years ago involving a sea captain-turned-aviator to a particularly valuable Chinese specimen – a Celestial! – who was later adopted by the Emperor himself (the man, not the dragon). Truth be told, it had been a bit of a scandal, but Giles had been more concerned with the idea of the lines of communication between the east and west opening and the fact that he might, might finally be able to make his way to China and see the results of their truly legendary breeding programs.
Soft coughs drew his attention away from his inner thoughts and back to the matter at hand. The tempestuous nature of the other Kazilik (and she was, apparently, quite a willful little thing) had led to the decision to present multiple options to this egg. Rupert had been lucky to get a spot to observe, though he expected his good fortune might have to do with Pryce's - his better connected and altogether far less pleasant rival - misfortune. Pryce had been held up with a family scandal in London, something about his aging uncle's penchant for young, impressionable women barely out of the schoolroom... Travers had always been a bit of a rake, but then again the bad blood between the Giles and Travers families was almost as historic as their predilection for natural studies.
And he was ruminating again, blasted habit, probably due to the thick fog of moisture. It dulled the senses and the heat was making him quite sleepy. "Think it will happen soon?' he asked the pale and sweating candidate beside him.
The young man shot him a look that was half anticipatory and half terrified. "I hope so, sir," he said with a gulp. "I'm about done in with waiting."
The dragon, apparently aware of the value of a good entrance, chose that instant to break the shell -- and did so with an absolutely explosive CRACK!
"Bloody buggering fuck!" the lieutenant shouted, and Giles had to agree.
The dragonet was almost a meter long, solid red from snout to tail, slightly paler where its other markings would soon be developing. It was damp from the shell, but flaring its thin wings instinctively to dry them -- which had the added effect of making it appear even larger. It lifted its head and looked around, bright golden eyes narrowed and black tongue flicking out almost snakelike -- tasting the air, perhaps?
The seven aviator candidates stood, but drew no closer. Giles couldn't really blame them. This wasn't his first hatching, but it was certainly making a bid to be the most spectacular. He desperately wished for ink and paper to put all his thoughts down, and possibly get a sketch in as well. He supposed that he would have time later, but Christ! Giles had not been prepared -
"Hello," the dragonet said with a voice that was oddly girlish for a creature that was already so imposing. "I'm rather hungry, has one of you got some food?"
One of the men took a small step forward, "Um. I-I have s-some ni - "
"Not you," she hissed disdainfully, "you are not my captain." She fluttered her wings a few times before pulling them back, almost as if she were adjusting a cape. "I was told that I might have a captain," she explained, and Giles was certain he detected a wistful note in her voice. "Iskierka said I could choose."
Iskierka, Giles thought rapidly, wasn't that the other Kazilik?
"Well," said another of the candidates, this one a woman, "any of us would be more than willing to be your captain. We - we've been waiting for you..."
"Really?" This time Giles was certain he detected a hint of smug pleasure. "All of you? Waiting for me?" She stretched, extending her wings again and flapping them just once with a decisive snap, then settling them to drape delicately down her spine on either side of the spiked ridge that ran the length of her body. "Well, that's very kind of you. I suppose I ought to choose now, then."
Giles almost smiled at the precocious dragon. This was definitely the most singular hatching he'd ever attended. He knew that the larger dragons often possessed intelligence either equal to or even sometimes greater than that of a human (thought that was a fact largely kept secret by the aviator community) but he had never seen such a display of intelligence from such a young dragon. It was akin to seeing a newborn infant playing Bach, and he was quite enthralled.
He watched her progress around and in between the aviators, sniffing one and flicking her tail at another. She barely glanced at the poor young man that he had been sitting beside during all the long hours of the wait. Giles smiled at her, amused, and then froze stock-still when she stopped short and peered up at him intently. Her eyes, seen close up, were not the pure pale gold he'd been expecting from a Kazilik -- they were almost green in this light. Then she tilted her head and he realized that they were shifting colors with the light: like a cat's eyes.
"You are not like the rest of them, are you more important?"
Giles chuckled at her naivety, "I'm not an aviator. I'm a naturalist. These men and woman are the ones who've been waiting for you to choose them."
She drew back her head a little, "You mean... you don't want me?"
Bloody buggering fuck. "No, no, I was waiting for you just as surely as all the rest, I only meant that they're the ones you're supposed to pick from. They're the ones that you want as a captain."
The dragonet considered this, "Iskierka told me that the official men tried to argue with her choice, and that the ones they wanted her to choose all smelled wrong." She cast her head around, looking at all the candidates (who were all looking back at her with varying degrees of pleading on their faces). "These ones don't smell wrong," she allowed, before turning her head back towards Giles, "but you smell better." She moved forward and nudged her snout against his hand, "You will be my captain."
Giles gaped at her.
"I think you're supposed to harness me now," she informed him helpfully.
"I rather think I'm supposed to name you first," he muttered, still in shock.
"Oh no, I've picked my own name. I want to be called Beautificus."
"That is a ridiculous name," Giles said flatly, ignoring the aviators hissed warnings. "I will not call you that. I do not even want to know where you heard that, it is horribly butchered Latin not even fit for a schoolboy's scribblings."
"I will be named Beautificus and you will be my captain!"
He looked up at the aviators helplessly, but half of them were already leaving: shoulders slumped in despair or shaking their heads in disgust, at least one muttering about 'bullheaded Kaziliks'. Of the other half, some were looking at him sympathetically but others seemed downright amused.
"You'd best give in, sir," said one, a petite brunette woman with a twinkle in her eye. "She looks like the sort to take the bit in her teeth and pull till you go her way."
Giles sighed, "I will be your captain - " god help me " - but I will never call you by that ridiculous name."
"Well," she said, twining about his legs now that she knew she'd be getting her way, "I suppose you could give me a... a shortname?"
"A nickname? Yes," he considered the creature who had just thrown his entire world out of orbit. The creature with the stubborn disposition and the horrid taste to choose 'Beautificus' as a name and him as her captain. "I think I'll call you 'Buffy'."