“Mama! Come look! There’s a bedraglon on the beach! We have to help it!”
“A what?” My child confused me sometimes.
“A bedraglon,” she repeated. “You know, when a thing is all mussed and tired and fade-y it’s bedraggled, right?”
I couldn’t fault her vocabulary. Since moving to Vios, she’d had little to do but read. She read in the house when I was preparing our meals, or in the back of flitter when I made house calls. And as the only xeno-veterinarian in the colony, I made a lot of house calls.
But the girl was still talking.
“Well, the animal on the beach is a dragon. And it’s bedraggled, so it’s a bedraglon, and we have to help it.” She looked up at me with her liquid blue-grey eyes, the color precisely the same as that of the stormy skies above us. “You can help it, can’t you, Mama?”
Ah, the faith of fools and children! You must never intentionally break either. “Let me get my bag,” I told her. “And I’ll see what I can do.”
The little girl half-led, half-pulled me down the beach from our back door, to where the poor creature had collapsed in the surf, and I had to admit, her name for it was sadly accurate.
I’d only ever glimpsed these native flyers in the air, and once I saw the evidence one of them left behind on one of Mr. Copnick’s sheep, but I’d never been up-close-and-personal with one, and even as a sodden heap, it was a bit intimidating.
“Easy there,” I said to it, speaking as I would to a spooked horse. “I’m here to help.”
It seemed to understand that I meant no harm because its dark eyes brightened slightly.
I walked around the creature making a visual assessment, and that’s when I realized what had happened: the poor beast had been snared by a fisherfolk’s drift net. Long since banned for ocean use, these nets were used on Vios and other colony worlds to catch aerial prey. Specifically, the fisherfolk here cast them out from trawling shuttles to snare the flying turkeys that had become one of our staple foods. Apparently, even when used in the skies instead of the seas, they still caught other creatures unintentionally.
“Zenia, darling, will you do Mama a huge favor and bring the big shears from my bag?”
“Okay!” She trotted over with them, carried point-down as I’d told her so many times. “Can I help?”
I hesitated. I needed someone to keep the dra – bedraglon – calm, but I wasn’t certain it was safe. I did my own sort of casting out, probing the creature with my vet-sense. There was no return crackle of danger, so I took a chance.
“Go sit near its head, sweetie. If it lets you touch it – like this -“ and I demonstrated, giving the animal’s side a firm but gentle stroke with my flattened hand “- then pet it, and talk to it. Talk soft and slow, like you do with Spot.”
Spot was our dog. Or cat. I hadn’t yet determined if the local domestic was analogous to canine or feline house pets, but we referred to them as Viosian Cloud Leopard Dogs, and almost every family had adopted one.
I gave the bedraglon – I was thinking of it that way, by then – a few minutes to settle, and was relieved to see that Zenia had dropped into a cross-legged position and coaxed the great beast’s head into her lap. Then I went to work with my shears.
Freeing the first wing was easy enough, but the second was folded backwards and the ribs were straining. I had to find the tension point before I could start snipping and balancing it with one hand while I clipped the strands of the net with the other was a little awkward. But I managed, and even though it felt like hours, it was only a few minutes before the animal was completely free.
I sensed the bedraglon’s motion before I saw it move. “Sweetie, move back,” I warned, but my daughter was already up on her feet.
The animal rocked back and forth a few times, then got to its feet. It snaked its thick neck around to look at me, then blew warm air into my face. I could have lived without the strong scent of masticated fish, but I understood it as a gesture of thanks.
“You’re welcome,” I told it.
I walked toward the front of its body, running my hands along its side as I did so. Nothing felt wrong, but what did I know? What surprised me was that it wasn’t scaled like a lizard or leathery like bats. Rather it had the coarse hair of a Terran hunting dog. A pointer, maybe.
By the time I got to where my daughter was standing, the bedraglon had turned back to look at her. She also received the animal’s breath of gratitude, and her expression of disgust only matched her delighted giggles for pure adorableness.
We watched as the creature launched itself into the air, and if its first few wing strokes were a bit wobbly, who could blame it.
I expected that would be the end of our first encounter with Bedraglon Zenian, as it was officially named, but about a week later as we were sitting on the sand right below our house, a shadow obscured the twin suns for a moment and then our friend was standing before us.
Zenia was racing toward it before I could even get up, but I needn’t have worried. The bedraglon had lowered its head so my daughter could hug its neck, just like she had with our ponies back on Earth.
My husband came out to join us then, bringing me a glass of iced mint tea. “What’s going on there?” he asked. “Should I worry?”
“Nope,” I told him. “That’s just a girl and her bedraglon. It’s all good.”
And it was.
Art by: Rasmus Berggreen – http://conceptartworld.com/artists/rasmus-berggreen/