"Well," the dragon said, peering down at Marnix in a way that reminded him of Aunt Fabiola studying a box of chocolates to pick which one looked most likely to be the one Cousin Albert would have liked for himself. "This is a bit awkward."
Awkward, Marnix decided, sounded a lot better than lunch. Or dinner. Or dessert. Also, awkward sounded a lot like French.
"But Dad!" the other dragon whined, also seemingly in French. "Royalty is royalty - and he's a virgin and everything. Betcha he's going to taste just fine."
"Tradition, young man!" the first dragon boomed in a tone that reminded Marnix very much of Uncle Albert who'd lived through the Great War and everything. "Although I grant you, with that hair ... "
I guess old folks are all the same everywhere. "What's wrong with my hair, huh?" Marnix asked. "I happen to like it this way! All the cool guys are wearing it like this."
"And if all these 'cool guys' would go jump in the Canal, I suppose you'd do that, too?" the older dragon said, sounding so much like Aunt Fabiola it was - now, wait just one minute.
"You're not real." That had to be it. He was just dreaming or something; should have known better than to smoke that last bit of pot. 'Just makes you feel nice,' my ass.
Both dragons peered down at him in a way that made him very - that would have made him feel very uncomfortable, if they'd been real, which they weren't, so there. "Now can I eat him, Dad? Or just smite him a little? Or drop him from, like, really high? That'd be, like, wicked cool."
"Language." The older dragon eyed Marnix thoughtfully. Marnix considered apologizing for saying the dragons weren't real. If they weren't, it'd be no skin off his nose - and if they were, well, good manners were any civilized young man's first line of defense, according to Aunt Fabiola. "Perhaps ... yes. That will do quite nicely, I think."
"What will?" Marnix asked a bit nervously.
"Quiet, son. If you'd done as you were supposed to, we wouldn't be in this mess. Now, you - Marnix, wasn't it?" The dragon lowered his head. "You said we're not real. As it happens, you're - "
"Wrong?" Marnix guessed. Jeez, those are some really big teeth.
"Right," the dragon said. "We're not real. You never saw us. We were never there, and you certainly never heard us talk about eating any people. Dragons don't eat people. Am I making myself clear?"
Like mud. "Absolutely," Marnix said.
"Excellent. Now, you're going to take a nice nap, and when you wake up, you won't remember this conversation. You won't remember any dragons. You tell those unpleasant folks from FANTASAMIQUE you just got lost on your way home from the party."
Fanta-what? "Absolutely," Marnix said, again.
"Very good. Now, you are getting very sleepy. In fact, you're so very sleepy you can barely keep your eyes open at all. So very, very sleepy you are getting."
Whatever you say, pal. Marnix closed his eyes and slumped in what he hoped to be a convincing manner. He'd actually had more practice faking 'awake' than 'asleep', but he supposed he might be a little bit tired, and the dragon clearly wanted him to start counting some Zs, so why not?
Aunt Fabiola made a fuss and Uncle Albert opined that having spent the night outside was no excuse for looking untidy and Cousin Albert looked the kind of smug you only looked when you'd gotten away with something someone else hadn't.
No organization named FANTASAMIQUE was listed anywhere in the phonebook, not even in the special one for Wallonia, although the Royal Library did have a few books about dragons that had mostly to do with how they didn't really exist.
Great. That's really helpful to know.
Eventually, Marnix supposed he might have started to believe he had imagined the whole thing, but then, just when he'd finished reading the last book about how dragons were not like dinosaurs, two CIA agents came to Brussels.
They had pictures.
"Well, they're not really dragons," the man who'd introduced himself as John said. "It'd be closer to the truth to say they're from an alternate reality where the dinosaurs never went extinct."
Right. Because that sounds so much more simple and probable than saying that dragons are real. Then again, if John was being as untruthful about dragons as Marnix suspected he was about his name, then why bother with such an unlikely explanation?
"They spoke French," Marnix said. "So dinosaurs have learned 20th century French in this alternate reality? That's the lingua franca over there?"
"About that." The man who'd introduced himself as John turned to the woman who'd introduced herself as Jane. She nodded. "We're pretty sure they didn't actually speak French."
"I heard them," Marnix said, wondering what that look had meant. "And I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed if they were speaking Dragonish. Or Dino, or something like that."
Another long look. "You see, Marnix, here's the thing," John said. "What you heard was French. Right?"
"But what they spoke wasn't."
Okay, that makes even less sense than the whole 'they're not dragons - they're dinosaurs from another dimension' thing.
Jane cleared her throat. "What we mean is: we think you were able to understand them because you have this ... special talent."
Hooray, I can talk to aliens. Or, well, I can hear what they're saying. "They seemed to understand me just fine, too."
John and Jane both nodded. "Definitely a potential mage," Jane said.
"We think that, with the right training, you could become a very powerful mage," John said. "Mages often have a gift for languages, and we've looked into your history a bit and, well, it seems very likely. It would also explain why that young Drak picked you up. They've got a nose for magic, you see. It's a bit like catnip to them."
Jane coughed. "Of course," John went on, "you'd have to come to the US." Jane coughed again. "Although that's not absolutely necessary. Someone could come here, show you the basics."
"I guess mages are pretty rare, huh?" Given how eager you seem at getting me. On one hand, Marnix supposed that if dragons were real (or sort of real, anyway), there was no reason why magic shouldn't be real, either.
On the other hand, you didn't grow up as a prince without learning to be a bit wary of people with stories that sounded a little too good to be true.
"Moderately," Jane said. "Rare enough that the Draks know we'd get really pissed at them if they'd happen to kill one."
"We've more or less agreed to leave them in peace so long as they limit their snacks to the occasional cow," John explained. "Their oral tradition does mention eating humans, but only women, and only - "
John nodded. "Yeah. Which, given the state of most monarchies - well, safe enough to say there's not exactly a lot of those around these days. Back in the US, they just need the occasional reminder that wearing a tiara does not a royal maiden make. The whole concept of beauty pageants is still a bit new to them, I'm afraid. Maybe you heard about that moviestar who went missing for a few months last year? Popped back up with a story about a burn-out?"
"In their home dimension, they mostly eat insects," Jane said.
"Must be big insects."
"You should see their mosquitoes." John shuddered. "Happily, the portal between our dimension and their hasn't been functional for several centuries. Unfortunately, of course, that means we can't just tell the Draks that are here to pack it in and go home. And, of course, we also can't exactly let the general public know they're living next to a family of dinosaurs."
Government cover-ups, at least, were familiar ground, even if Marnix had usually witnessed them applied to things like speeding tickets or 'inappropriate behavior for a civilized young man'.
"So," Jane said. "What do you say? Want to help keep the world ignorant, but safe?"
Do I want to learn magic? Assuming, of course, for the moment that such a thing exists and that I've got the talent for it? Cousin Albert was next in line for the throne - it wasn't as if Marnix was needed for much more than the occasional scandal. Stupid question.
He'd known there would be a catch. Or, well, he'd strongly suspected it.
"Is that what I think it is?" Marnix supposed it could have been worse. He'd expected there to be money involved, not dragon eggs.
"None of us knows how to talk to it," John said, sounding slightly apologetic. "From what we've been able to determine, Draks don't actually talk for the first few hundred years of their lives or so, but they tend to get kind of nasty when there's nobody around talking to them in a language they understand."
Great. Just great. "How nasty?"
"Remember that story about a gas leak in an old office building in downtown Los Angeles?"