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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Proper Introduction to Dragons… part 4, from Maria Grace!

Hello, my dearlings! Today is both a happy and a sad day, for we have come to the end of our journey into the world of Jane Austen’s Dragons with the final sneak peek of Maria Grace’s A Proper Introduction to Dragons! All this month, Maria has been sharing a series of excerpts with us every Tuesday morning, but today, alas!, is the last. So grab yourself some breakfast, pour yourself a cuppa tea and let’s see what today’s final post has in store for us. And if you want to see how this story really wraps up – and all that happens in between now and then – you can enter to win one of two copies of the book!

Excerpt 4; A Proper Introduction to Dragons by Maria Grace

September 1801
It was odd to have an entire seat of the carriage to herself, no one blocking her view or the fresh breeze that danced in on the sunshine through the open side glass. Usually, Elizabeth was crowded in with her sisters squashed in on either side. Today, she had to brace on her own against the sway and jolt of the coach as each bump transmitted through the thin squabs. Who would think she would be missing their presence when she had all this lovely space to herself?

Papa sat across from her, eyes lightly closed, not quite sleeping, but lost in his own thoughts. So quiet and still, he almost blended into the dry cracked leather seats and scuffed finishes. Mama was ever after him to have the carriage refitted; it had been his father’s, after all. But he only consented to necessary repairs. Until now, it had seemed a matter of economy that he did so. But he seemed so comfortable here, perhaps there was an element of nostalgia as well.

He did not appreciate constant conversation during a carriage ride, ignoring it when he could not avoid it all together. That might have made it a lonely journey except for the lovely large leather-bound book in her lap. Papa had brought that particular tome of dragon lore along, knowing how much she had yearned to read it. Had it been any ordinary book, her pride might have been offended that he thought she needed to be bribed into silence. But Dragon Etiquette Volume 1: Greetings was a prize worth setting aside pride for, especially considering how rarely he allowed his books out of his study.

Given she would meet her first dragon outside the confines of Longbourn’s Keep on this trip, studying dragon greetings was a very fitting thing. Bedlow was just a baby, though, but Papa assured her that, even at such a tender age, Bedlow would be able to walk and talk—and take offense—just as an older dragon might. Even so, he was unlikely to be very particular about proper manners.

That was just as well, though. Dragon greetings were rather complex. No, not rather, they were very complex. Very, very complex. Surely it would be easier to be presented before the King. At least at court, there were fewer nuances to be considered.

With dragons, so much depended on dominance, whether or not it was already established. Were those who were meeting of the same species or not? If they were of the same species, would they honor the established species hierarchy? After all, frilled minor drakes were loath to recognize that horned minor drakes ranked above them, so much so that they would regularly fight to prove themselves dominant.  Were wings, frills, fins, or hoods involved? Tails, feathers, puffing one’s body out, stances, even scents all could play a role.

She rubbed her eyes with her fists. How was one to remember it all for each different species and every possible combination of species? Moreover, how was she to properly communicate with dragons when she lacked the capacity to express the correct body language?

Obviously, members of the Blue Order accomplished that and had for some time. More or less, anyway. But so many attempted greetings ended in misunderstanding, sometimes of a tragic variety. Could there not be a better way to convey a greeting more accurately?

Perhaps there could be some sort of substitute for those body parts she was not blessed with—a fan or a large hat, perhaps. No, that would be silly. She giggled under her breath.  A coat … or a cloak! That might be very good. She pulled her commonplace book and pencil from her carpetbag and jotted a quick reminder. Perhaps she might try her hand at a few sketches later when Papa did not require her assistance.

A very full cloak could act like wings or a puffed body if handled correctly. It would require some form of straps inside to permit that. And an ample hood could extend out like a frill if the edges were stiffened properly, or cover her face when necessary to show deference. It all made a great deal of sense …

“Lizzy? Lizzy, are you paying attention? We have arrived. Arrange your bag now so we can debark.” Papa reached for his satchel.

She jumped and slipped both books into her bag. How delightful Papa had not asked for his volume back. Hopefully, she could continue her study later tonight.

Papa handed her out of the carriage in front of a large apothecary’s shop with a thatched roof and weathered wooden sideboards. Attractive displays filled the front window that kept watch over a neatly swept porch. A sign above the door bore the silhouette of a dragon on one side and an apothecary jar on the other and read Bedlow’s in large red letters.

How odd. The proprietor was Mr. Garland. Should not the place be called Garland’s? Perhaps merchants named their establishments for their Dragon Friends as Keeps were named for their territorial dragons.

Papa led her to the door. What a very friendly-looking place it seemed. Her heart raced just a mite. There was a drakling to meet just inside. Would he be friendly? Would he like her?

A round, red man flung open the door and beckoned them inside. Everything about him was rosy: his cheeks, his nose, his hair, his mustache, even his apron was a faded red. It was all a happy sort of gingery-red, not the angry sort of short-tempered red that some people wore like a scowl. He had a funny sort of trundle-waddle step as he showed them through his tidy shop to a sitting room upstairs through a cloud of herbal scents tinged with just a hint of dragon musk.

“You must forgive me. My sister who keeps house for me is away right now.” Mr. Garland bowed over his round belly as they entered the sitting room.

The room was only half the size of Mama’s sitting room, a bit crowded and cluttered and dark. Not gloomy, precisely, but dark in the way rooms were when the occupant had more interesting things to do than clean rooms. A bit like Papa’s study.

“May I present my daughter, Elizabeth? She has come to be my scribe today.” Papa nodded at her, and she curtsied.

Mr. Garland’s eyes grew wide. “She knows about …”

Papa patted her shoulder. “She hears and already knows quite a bit about dragons.”

Mr. Garland heaved a little sigh that sounded relieved. “Very good. I hate the thought of keeping Bedlow away. The little fellow is too young to be left on his own for very long.”

What a very dear fellow, so concerned for his little Friend. It was easy to like Mr. Garland very much, even just a few moments after meeting him. There was something very trustworthy in someone who cared so for a dragon.

“Bring him out. We will both be charmed to meet him.” Papa shuffled toward the nearest chair, a frayed and faded wingback. Elizabeth perched on a stool beside him.

That brought a huge smile to Mr. Garland’s face, and he shuffled out. A short moment later, he returned with a bundle the size of one of Papa’s pointers wrapped in a tattered blanket. He crouched down, and his burden spilled out of his arms in a tangle of limbs and frayed wool. A little red drake—of course, he would have to be red to match his Friend!—tumbled out onto the floor.

It was a struggle not to laugh. He righted himself on all fours and shook as though to get everything in the right places again. About the size of a hunting dog, he was hardly alarming, especially because of his baby proportions. His deep blue eyes were far too large for his face, wide and innocent, but that would soon be replaced by mischief, no doubt. His feet were too big for his body, rather like a puppy, and his tail far too long. In short, he was adorable.

She crouched down and dipped her head in a greeting of equals—they were both children, after all. He toddled up to her and touched his nose to hers. It was cold and smooth and dry.

“I Bedlow.”

“And I am Elizabeth. Shall I scratch your ears?”

He stretched his neck toward her in a clear invitation. She scratched behind his ears the way that Rumblkins most liked. She had become so accustomed to scratching a furry dragon that Bedlow’s smooth cool scales felt a bit odd. Not unpleasant, but odd.

Bedlow cooed and thumped his tail. He turned his side to her for more scratching. Apparently, what was pleasant for fur was also pleasing for scales. Mr. Garland’s smile stretched into a hearty grin.

Were all dragons itchy? It seemed like Rumblkins always was and now Bedlow. That was probably something she should write down. Bedlow wound around her like a cat, rubbing his face against her legs.

Papa reached down to pat his head. The drakling met him halfway, tail thumping. “What a fine little fellow he is.”

“He is a grand young thing for sure.” Mr. Garland joined them near the floor and scratched under Bedlow’s chin. “But the poor lad seems rather sulky at the moment. I think his teeth be bothering him. I ‘spect I will need to call the surgeon to lance his gums if he don’t get better soon. I hate to do it, but none of the dragon lore has any better notions.”

“Is teething in dragons as dangerous as teething in human babies?” She turned to Papa. “The Lucas’ baby boy nearly died of teething even though his gums were lanced by the best surgeon in Meryton. Poor little chap.” Her stomach tightened as she chewed her knuckle.

“I am not sure anyone knows for certain, but we always take all the precautions we can for the comfort and safety of our friends.” Papa leaned back with a pained look. Was that for the dragon or for his own discomfort?

Mr. Garland leaned toward her and looked her directly in the eye. “Do you know anything about babies, young miss? I know young women often do. If you know anything to comfort him …”

“I will try to remember what was done for the Lucas boy, but in any case, I can sit with him and keep him company whilst you and Papa talk.” Bedlow rubbed his jaw hard against her knee, hard enough to hurt a bit. A gobbet of drool trickled down the edge of his mouth.

Poor baby must be very uncomfortable.

“He can show you around the house if he would like. That might give him a few moments’ distraction.” Mr. Garland rubbed the sides of Bedlow’s face and wiped the spittle away with his apron. “Would you like to show your new friend the old place?”

“Come. I show.” Bedlow gently took her wrist in his mouth and pulled her toward the door.

“Go along, Lizzy. I will call for you when you are needed.”

She struggled to contain her smile as she scurried along after Bedlow. Papa trusted her alone with a new dragon friend!

He led her to the narrow wooden stairs, his talons clacking on the steps as he walked, and down to the dim kitchen with only a single window. A cheery fire crackled near a large basket on the hearth. Lingering scents of old stew and baking bread filled the stone walls with a comfortable sense of home.

“Do you sleep there?” She pointed at the basket.

“It warm. I like warms.” He sat hard on the stone floor and pawed at his mouth. “I no like this.”

“May I see?” She sat next to him.

“Can make stop?” He cocked his head, a bit of drool sliding from the corner of his wide mouth down his neck. “Itches, hurts, burns. I no like.”

“Open your mouth and promise not to bite me.” On second thought, putting her hand in a dragon’s mouth might not be a good idea.

Bedlow’s jaw swung open surprisingly wide. Gracious, just how large was his mouth? Just behind his baby fangs, his gums were swollen red and angry-looking. Poor baby!

“Do not bite me.” She reached inside and rubbed her fingertips along his gums firmly like she had seen Lady Lucas do with her baby.

Bedlow started and nearly clamped down but stopped just in time. She would definitely think twice about putting her hand in a dragon’s mouth again!

He leaned into her hand. “Dat gud,” he murmured through her fingers, eyelids drooping and eyes rolling back.

Baby Lucas had liked the same thing. Hmmm, Lady Lucas had given him something to put in his mouth, a stick of some sort … no … wait, it was a coral! A family heirloom of some kind.  He would gum it, and it made him feel better, for a short time at least.

Well, that would not do—even if Mr. Garland had such an heirloom, there was little chance it was big enough for that mouth!

Bedlow sat on the hearth and moved from her fingers to gumming her wrist—just a bit too hard for her liking. Ouch. But he cooed so happily as he did it, how could she possibly stop him?

Clearly, the little drake needed something to chew on, but what? Wood would splinter, pewter was too hard and could puncture, a knotted rag soaked in sugar or even rum would shred too easily, not to mention that few dragons tolerated liquor well. A horseshoe would be too hard, so would bricks or stone.

He released her wrist for a moment, and she rose to pace the length of the kitchen. Sometimes the movement helped to shake a thought or two loose.

Bedlow trotted after her like a puppy, whining softly. “No go, please no go.” He butted her with the top of his head.

“I am right here.” She reached down to scratch his ears. He really was much like a large puppy … that was it! Puppies chewed bones!

Surely there would be a large bone somewhere in a kitchen that smelt like stew. She scanned the room. There, in a large bowl, probably destined for soup. Hopefully, Mr. Garland would not mind—though his cook probably would. But he had said she could try to soothe Bedlow if she could.

She hurried over to the bone and carefully lifted it from the bowl, brushing vegetable trimmings away as she did.

Bedlow rose up on his back legs and sniffed what she was doing. “Smells good. Like dinner.”

Was he always hungry like Rumblkins, too?

“Here. I think it will feel good on your gums. Chew it like you were doing with my wrist.” She carried the bone to his hearth basket and encouraged him to climb in. Even if the bone did not help, at least he would be somewhere comfortable.

His eyebrows knit, but he kept the question to himself, probably because the meat left clinging to the bone smelt too good to refuse. He curled up in the basket and took the bone from her hand.

Naturally, he ignored her instructions and picked all the meat off first and licking it well for good measure. Only after his snack was finished—it seemed there were few things dragons liked better than eating—did he begin to chew as she directed. He whimpered and complained at first, slowly getting used to the sensation. Then he went after the beef shank with enthusiasm. A few minutes later, he rolled onto his back to hold the bone with all four dexterous feet as he chewed, the tip of his red tail flicking happily. He rumbled to himself, a happy purry sort of sound.

“Well, I’ll be…”

Elizabeth jumped and turned. Mr. Garland and Papa stood in the doorway.

“I have been calling for you for at least five minutes complete.” Papa scowled just a little.

“Never mind that! What have you done?” Mr. Garland trundled over to the hearth basket. “The little chap has not looked this happy since this business with his teeth began. Look at him.”

“Like bone! Feel good!” Bedlow grinned up at Mr. Garland, tail wagging happily.

Mr. Garland scratched the drakling’s pale belly. “You may have all the bones you like. I will put an order in with the butcher directly.” He looked up at Papa. “I think I will hold off calling that surgeon.”

“As long as the relief continues, I do not see why not.” His features softened just a mite. He was pleased after all.

“Why is there nothing of this in dragon lore? It seems so very simple a solution.” Mr. Garland balanced his fists on his hips.

“I have no idea. Perhaps no one thought to take note of it. It does seem a very basic, simple sort of thing.” Papa glanced at Elizabeth, one eyebrow cocked.

“You will, Miss, write this down for me, and anything else you can think of for his comfort—in between copying for your father, of course. Will you not?” Mr. Garland extended an open hand to her.

“I should be most happy to.”

“I expect we shall be here several days, Lizzy. Do start by writing a letter to your mother to inform her of that. Come upstairs to the office. There is a writing desk waiting for you.”

She rose; Bedlow jumped up after her, carrying his bone in his mouth. He trotted upstairs to the office and curled around her feet, gnawing happily. His hide was warm from the fire and felt so cozy around her ankles.

Mama might grumble about them being gone for several days, but Papa seemed to like Mr. Garland’s company and really, what could be much better than days spent learning new dragon genealogies with a new dragon friend to keep company with?

If this was what Blue Order Business was like, pray Papa would invite her along very often!

About A Proper Introduction to Dragons by Maria Grace
Buy it from Amazon  |  Add it to Goodreads
Most people were blissfully unaware that England was overrun by dragons. Only those born with preternatural hearing could hear and converse with dragonkind, and even those rarely came into their hearing before they were fifteen. It was not Elizabeth’s fault that she discovered the truth about dragons when she was only four years-old.

It was also not Elizabeth’s fault that the old tatzelwurm, Rumblkins, who lived in the woods near Longbourn House befriended her. Really, he would have attached himself to anyone who fed him dried cod and scratched behind his ears.
So clearly, it could not be her fault when Rumblkins led her to a nest of endangered fairy dragon eggs that the Pendragon Treaty compelled her to save. Unfortunately her father does not agree.

Thomas Bennet, dragon-lore expert, faithful member of the dragon-hearing society, the Blue Order, and Keeper of the local wyvern, Longbourn, has a dragon-sized problem on his hands. At eleven years-old, his second-oldest daughter is hopelessly fascinated with all things dragon-related. But his wife and other daughters lack the ability to hear dragons, so the world of the Blue Order must remain hidden from them.

Now faced with an abandoned clutch of fairy dragon eggs to care for, the careful balance he walks between the needs of his jealous estate dragon, Elizabeth’s incorrigible draw toward dragons and continued secrecy from the rest of the family hangs in jeopardy. If only Elizabeth would be a more conventional child!

But how can a girl who shuns traditional ladylike pursuits to play with dragons ever be conventional? Does dragon-hearing society have a place for such an oddity as her?

about the author:
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.

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  1. Enjoyed the excerpt and that it is Lizzy who figures out how to help Bedlow.

  2. Loved this excerpt! Annoying that Mr. Bennet downplays ELizabeth's ingenuity in finding the solution - if she found it, it must have been a very easy solution to find and probably many others knew just did not write it down. Ugh. I no like him!

  3. I loved all 4 books, but I think this one is my favorite...how Elizabeth was introduced to dragons...it certainly made me not respect Mr Bennet so much.

  4. Absolutely loved reading this excerpt look forward to reading the rest.


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