It was the cold from the water where his wings drooped into the river that woke him up. It was late afternoon and he had fallen asleep on the rock warmed by the winter sun. Tracking and chasing the stag all morning had worn him out. He shook his wings without thinking and in the process a dozen fish started to scoot away from his perch. One was exceedingly close to his face as he hung over the edge. Thinking fast he plunged his muzzle in the icy depths intent on catching at least one of the huge fish to take home.
He grasped it in his mouth and pushed up off the rock with his front paws. His mind had time to register that the fish was as long as he was tall with its tail still dangling in the river, flipping water in huge splashed from side to side. He reached out with his front paws to grasp it, when all of a sudden something grabbed hold of it at the tail and pulled hard. Zodic was already a bit off balance with his head stuck out over the water and reaching forward with his front paws while sitting not too steadily on his haunches. The yank from the other end of the fish was hard and his teeth were firmly planted in the head. He toppled forward into the river.
The shock of hitting the freezing water made him release his hold on his catch, but instead of swimming away, the fish went flying into the air and up on the bank. Zodic tried to stand in the pool, but his feet couldn’t touch the bottom. The current was much swifter than he thought and it began to push him forward toward the falls. He struggled to keep his head above water. His fur was fast weighing him down. If he got pushed over the falls he would never make it out alive. He grasp at another rock further downstream. His claws raked the surface, but he couldn’t gain purchase. His paw caught an overhanging branch, but it snapped off with his weight. He clawed at the water. His head went under once and he came up sputtering and spitting, snorting the water from his nose.
As he drew nearer to the falls he thought he felt bottom and pushed with his rear paws against it to propel himself toward shore, but it wasn’t bottom, it was something soft. He thought for sure he felt fur beneath his hind paws. At that moment he felt whatever he was standing on, whatever was below his hind paws rose up under him and pushed him toward shore. He pushed off the object and made a lunge for a fallen tree sticking out over the water’s edge. He sunk his claws deep into it. With great difficulty he pulled his heavily soaked body out of the water and up on the log. He clung there panting and shaking with cold and fear of what could have happened as he watched a head crest the surface of the river.
It was a Frost Dragon. Its sleek white head bobbed up and down gently in the current not moving. Frost Dragon’s were strong swimmers and built for water. Their coats were short and waterproof, their webbed paws and long, broad, powerful tails were made for thrusting them through deep, fast moving water.
“Are you alright,” she called, as her frosty looking, protective, second eyelid receded to show off deep blue eyes beneath.
Zodic could tell from the tone of her voice she was female. He couldn’t answer her. His teeth were chattering to hard. If he tried to, he would bite his tongue.
She swam closer and easily pulled herself up out of the water onto the log beside him. The water ran off her like it was trying to escape her fur. She fluttered her wings and shook her body from nose to the tip of her tail and the last of the water went flying. Even in his almost drown state, Zodic could not help, but admire her. She was built for speed whether in air or water. Her wings were long and curved close to her sleek, pearl white body. Her ears were frilled. Her tail helped her balance as she curled it around the log behind her as if it were another arm. Her legs were shorter than his and stocky with massive webbed paws that she was now using to try and pet some of the water from Zodic body.
She cocked her head and her ears flared out like tiny question marks on the side of her head. “Can you light yourself a fire if I gather the wood? We need to get you dry.” Her eyes were as crystal clear and blue as the lake on a warm summer day.
Zodic just nodded his head, still unable to speak. Some distant part of his brain was reminding him what his father taught him about Frost Dragons. They didn’t breathe fire. It was something they lost somewhere along the way.
The female lopped down the length of the log and onto the bank. She spread her wings and took flight up and over the tree line. Zodic made his way slowly along the log. At one point a huge piece of the bark gave way under his feet and he almost plunged head first into the river again, but dug in his claws and managed to stay upright until he reached the shore and put paw safely to ground. His coat was beginning to freeze when the Frost Dragon reappeared with what looked to be a small, dead, dry tree in her grasp. Where she found a dry anything in these woods was more than Zodic could puzzle out, but he didn’t care.
She swooshed the ground with her tail several time until the snow was clear and there was nothing but dirt and pine needles below. She began to break off the limbs and stack the branches in a pile to start a fire. Zodic didn’t make her wait too long. He rumbled deep in his throat to stoke his fire glands and then set them off in order to send a blast at her wood pile. Once the fire was lit, he hugged up to it and began the laborious act of cleaning and fluffing up his coat again.
Her name was Austere.
Zodic was no longer shivering from the cold. He was shaking from her touch. She was roughing up his fur, fluffing it backward with her paws and then licking it free of any ice or water left close to his skin. Her nose nuzzled the skin on the back of his neck and her warm breath caressed him. He tried his best to keep his mind on drying his legs, paws and chest. When he felt her paws spread the fur on the back of his right shoulder and her nose nuzzle into it, his body shook.
“Maybe we should take shelter somewhere,” she said thinking his quaking was due to cold. “My hunting den is not far from here,” she offered.
Zodic pulled another limb up on the fire and moved closer. He couldn’t go home with her. What would his family say? What would his clan say? She was a Frost, he was a Furry – they just were not meant to mix and the way his body was reacting, if they were alone in a den, there would be mixing.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “Getting dryer by the moment.”
She smoothed the fur on his shoulder with her paw. “You have the most luxurious fur,” she cooed. “So soft and fluffy.” She ran her paw over his back. “You’re almost dry back here.”
“Thank goodness,” Zodic said under his breath and then to her, “Thank you. I’m much better now.”
She moved around in front of him and sat studying him closely from across the fire. It made him a bit uncomfortable. He stopped cleaning and shifted uneasily on his haunches under her gaze.
“Your eyes are two different colors,” she commented. “Really unusual and fascinating.”
She cocked her head and gazed into his eyes. He looked away and found a spot to clean so he didn’t fall into the depths of her blue eyes and find himself lost.
She circled around the fire and reached out a velvet soft paw toward his chest. “You missed a spot.”
“That’s okay,” he said and shifted his weigh in order to take his body away from her. “I got it.”
She dropped her paw and stepped back. She looked up at the sky as if just noticing for the first time it was drawing close to dusk.
“I’ll go get us something to eat,” she offered. “I don’t know about you, but I am starving.”
As though the mere thought of food made his body react, Zodic’s stomach growled. She giggled and hurried up the bank further up stream. Her body was longer than his. She didn’t walk on all fours when she hurried like any other creature he had ever seen, she had a lopping gait, pushing off with her back paws and then her front in turn.
When she returned she had a huge fish in her mouth. She laid it close to the fire. He looked down at it. It had teeth marks not only where she had been holding it in the middle, but also at the head and tail. This was the fish he caught. He looked at her in surprise.
“You’re the one who pulled me in,” he said indignantly.
Austere walked around behind Zodic. Her sleek white body wrapped itself around him. He could feel her side curl up against his back. Her board, white velvet tail curved around and fell across his front paws. Her head came over his right shoulder and she leaned into his back. She smelled fresh, like the river and the scent of the pine needles she cleared for the fire.
“But, I pulled you out too,” she whispered in his ear.
Zodic shrugged his shoulders and stood up forcing her to fall back away from him.
“I didn’t know you had hold of the head, Zodic,” she tried to explain. “I was focused on the fish. I had no idea some Furry would be trying to ice fish.” She came around in front of him. She cocked her head at him, her ears flared out and she churred softly down deep in her throat. A pleasant sound he had never heard any dragon of his clan make. “You must admit, it is not normal behavior for a Furry during the winter months.”
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his short span of dragon years. She sat there on the other side of the fire and the light danced in her huge blue eyes and cast shine on her pearly white coat.
“Come on,” she begged sweetly. “Let’s share the fish and then we can go our separate ways as friends.” She nudged the fish toward him and churred again. It sounded a bit like a cross between his clan member’s purr of contentment and the softer growls of play rolled into one.
She looked up at him and squinted her eyes, at the same time flattening her ears and lifting her chin toward him revealing her neck in a show any dragon would have interpreted as submissive, no matter the clan.
“I guess you did make up for the dunking by pulling me out,” he confessed.
“I should hope so,” she smiled and nudged the fish closer to his paw. “You are one heavy dragon when you’re wet.” She chuckled and he laughed with her.