bethbethbeth: (Discworld Lilacs (ankh_khpt))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] disc_fest
Author: opalmatrix
Title: Seasoned to Taste
Rating: G
Pairing: n/a
Words: 1226
Warnings: Moderate for Cheery Littlebottom (in Feet of Clay) and minor for Lady Sybil Ramkin (in Guards! Guards!)
Notes: Written for the Second Discfest. Prompt: Cheery Littlebottom volunteers at the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons. Beta by s.
Summary: In the end, it all comes down to chemistry.




"I think the armor is a bit big on you," said Lady Sybil Ramkin, critically.

Cheery was not about to argue. She was not so much wearing the plated leather tunic as drowning in it. There didn't seem to be much point in trying to climb into the trousers, even if she'd been able to.

"I know!" said one of the Emmas. She rummaged in the enormous oak chest that held the bits of volunteers' gear and pulled out out an elderly-looking leather tunic with its hem partially eaten away. "I can cut this one down. The leggings, too."

Cheery eyed the seared edges of the leather. Even the metal plates still clinging to the remains of the garment looked the worse for wear. Mentally she began cataloging the compounds that could have caused the damage as the ladies cut a couple of feet off the bottoms of the protective garments. It didn't seem right to be handling stuff like that without tongs, at the very least.

"And let's tie back the beard with this kerchief. There you go," said Lady Ramkin, cheerfully.

"All kitted out. Come along."

She strode out of the wardrobe room, with Cheery trotting stiffly in her wake. This was all Captain Carrot's fault, of course. It seemed like a reasonable idea, on the face of it: guards volunteering at various charitable jobs throughout the city. Community relations would be improved, the work of the guards would become easier as they gained the trust of the people of the city, and bluebirds would sing. And at least Cheery's stint at the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons was unlikely to be as much of a disaster as Nobby Nobbs' shift at Saint Cuspidor's Hospital or Sergeant Angua's day helping with the petting zoo at Lady Trubbage's fete for the orphans.

The smell was simply incredible. Cheery found herself recognizing the familiar scents of substances she'd never expected to meet outside of an alchemical laboratory. Liver of sulphur, mercury of life, aqua regia ... and meanwhile Lady Ramkin rambled on: "Now, this is Tuffet. She was used as a foot warmer by a little old lady on Scrantling Lane, but after she died, the family kicked her out, and she was found almost starving in an alley. Here we have Nipkin, who's nearly recovered from a nasty case of dwumples. Good lad! Bright as they come. Not that that means much. And ... oh dear, Emma - take care of that will you?"

Cheery was guided firmly away from a stall that was now half-filled with sizzling, popping manure and found herself facing a generous pen occupied by a sizeable dragon with tarnished silver and pale blue scales. It was absent-mindedly licking what appeared to be a large egg. Several more were scattered about.

"That's my girl! Such a good mother, compared with most of 'em, even though she's been off her feed since she clutched. Poor thing was found gravid and mangy in the boiler room of a bath house. Constable, meet Cloudy."

The dragon was, in truth, just as much of a horrid little blob as the others, but her shining scales and the look of sleepy contentment in her half-lidded eyes drew Cheery to peer over the door of the stall. How many eggs had the creature laid? Automatically, Cheery grasped the top of the door with her gauntleted hands and started to pull herself up for a better look.

A silver-and-blue flash shot toward Cheery, and something seized her right hand. Cheery was too stunned to utter a sound.

"Drop it, Cloudy! Bad girl!" Lady Sybil smacked the dragon on the snout. The grip on Cheery's hand shifted, and the dragon tugged off the leather gauntlet. The two of them watched as Cloudy dropped the gauntlet into one corner, nudged her eggs into an arrangement that must have made sense to a dragon, and then sat down amidst them to chew on the leather.

"Oh, drat the creature. Look at that! I've tried her on all sorts of things she usually likes, and what does she eat instead? I'm so sorry, Constable Littlebottom. It takes some of 'em that way, after they've clutched. They get so touchy and snappish, and nothing we feed them seems to suit them. I should never have let you come so close on your first time with us."

"It's the shelter's gear, after all, m'lady," said Cheery, watching the dragon ecstatically gnaw on the gauntlet. Leather, she thought. What could it be about leather? I'm sure Lady Ramkin has tried the dragon on meat, as well as all sorts of vegetables and fodder. They're omnivores ... with emphasis on the "omni."

Cheery pulled off her other gauntlet and looked up at Lady Ramkin. "If it's all right with you, lady, I'd like to take this glove and run a quick errand or two."

***

Three hours later, the silver-and-blue dragon was devouring a pile of mixed butcher's offal, twigs, and turnips with every expression of relish. Lady Sybil's eyes were positively misty as she watched.

"That's right, girl, that's what I like to see ... ."

Cheery, in her cut-down leather armor and now-mismatched gauntlets, stood on a footstool to observe and felt considerable proprietary satisfaction. "I'm sure your ladyship will want to try adjusting the dose. And Naz Stoneshifter says he'd be glad to arrange a standing order for you."

"Alum," mused Lady Ramkin. "Sprinkled on like salt. So simple. Look at her polishing off the last bits - that's my good girl! I'll have to write this up for the Dragon Breeder's Annual, you know. This is too important to keep to myself. I'll credit you, of course: discovery by Guard Constable Cheery Littlebottom."

Cheery ducked her head and blushed but managed to keep herself from twisting her feet under the dragging hems of the leather trousers. "It was a lucky guess. It could have been anything in the tanning process."

"But I daresay you wouldn't have stopped your research if your guess had been wrong, would you? As they say, like man - or dwarf, sorry - like master, Littlebottom. You've done a good day's work."

"M-might I come back in a day or two to see how she's doing, Lady Sybil?"

"What! You haven't had enough of my dragons yet?"

"Well - "

Lady Ramkin chuckled. "We can always use the extra hands. I'll make sure that gear's the proper length for you when you return, Littlebottom. And we'll be glad to see you - won't we, Cloudy?"

The dragon stretched contentedly, but then suddenly her eyes bulged. Lady Ramkin quickly dragged Cheery back from the pen. They both watched with alarm as Cloudy sat frozen in place, her sides fluttering with her uneven breaths. Then she belched out a small cloud of blue flame and relaxed. Lady and guardswoman breathed again.

"Until next time, then," said Lady Ramkin, beaming. Cheery saluted, automatically, and turned to go, but a small whimper came from the pen. Cloudy's scaly face was pressed against the door, one eye peering beseechingly through the slats. Lady Ramkin looked at Cheery and raised her eyebrows. Cheery sidled over to the pen and cautiously reached out one leather-sheathed finger to scratch the gleaming brow. The dragon made a small, rhythmic hissing noise, like a kettle coming to a boil.

"Until next time, Cloudy," said Cheery.
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