A Dragon's Redemption
It was the perfect end to a great day. Even from inside the restaurant, filled with jubilant laughter and satisfied smiles, it was easy to tell the night was cool and calm. From the window, the moon sat high in the sky, a few clouds lazily floating by in the pale glow.
Quinn couldn’t stop smiling as he escorted the last of his customers to the door, wishing them good night and a safe trip home. He held his tail stiffly behind him just to keep it from wagging and knocking something over. It was the only time he envied humans and hated being a dragon. Humans didn’t have to worry about getting overly excited and extra appendages going wild.
Instead of cleaning up, he remained by the door and took in the sights. It was finally done. His pa’s dream of creating a place where humans and dragons could eat together had finally come to fruition. The first dragon-owned restaurant in the Dragonlands, or perhaps all of Geolga. After the place had burned down, it surprised him how quickly everyone came together to help rebuild. Now was bigger and better than ever. Even now, standing in the fruit of his labor still felt like a dream.
“Well, that was a good night, wasn’t it, hon?” Alyse asked.
Quinn turned to the middle-aged woman. She had lost some weight assisting with the rebuilding, but she still retained her plump shape. He liked her better with the weight. It made her seem cuddly and approachable, something he would never admit to out loud. She was the fiercest human he knew and she wasn’t afraid to tell off a dragon for being rude.
“Yeah, our first grand opening since rebuilding, and not a single fight,” he said proudly.
“I ain’t complainin’,” Harold said as he flipped a chair over to put on the table.
Quinn rolled his eyes at the teen. It was hard to believe how much Harold’s appearance had changed since they first met. The once pale, skinny human with greasy hair had returned to a healthy weight and his skin had returned to a healthy pink tinge. Thanks to Alyse’s nagging, his hair had been properly cut and no longer looked thin and greasy.
I wish you were here to see what you made, pa, Quinn thought.
A tap on his shoulder from Harold snapped him out of his reverie. “You a’ight?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. You know what? How about you two head home early tonight? I can handle closing up on my own.”
“You sure, hon? I don’t mind—”
“And I live here!” Harold added. “What am I gonna do?”
Quinn shrugged. “Get to bed early for once or maybe clean your room; I saw how you left it. Alyse, you have been the backbone of this place for as long as I can remember. You earned yourself a break. And I know you’ve been pushing yourself, Harold. Both of you go on. And take the week off. That’s an order from your boss.”
She gave him a playful shove. “As if you could order me to do anything. But if you’re sure. I ain’t gonna stay longer than I have to. I’ll see you next week then.”
“He’d burn the place down by time we got back,” Harold added.
The pair laughed as they left the restaurant through separate doors.
Quinn chuckled to himself and got back to work cleaning off the tables. There was a certain serenity to cleaning up when no one was around. A different feel than preparing for the day. He could take his time and absorb the silence without worry. Let his thoughts reminisce on the day’s events and not feel pressured into a deadline.
The bell over the door jingled again. At first he figured Alyse had forgotten something but then he heard the distinct sound of claws on the floor.
“Sorry, but I’m closed for tonight,” he said without looking back at the new interloper.
“Look, can you just do me a favor? I’m tired and I haven’t eaten in days.”
He turned around and saw a female Short Snout standing by the door. She looked to be in really bad shape. Despite being covered in dirt, scars marked her dingy green scales, particularly a long jagged scar that ran along her neck to her shoulder. The fins on the sides of her head and the end of her tail were torn.
He sighed and said, “All right. Take a seat over there.” He pointed his tail to the one table that didn’t have chairs on it. “I’ll get you something to eat, but you’ll have to wait for me to heat it up.”
“I don’t care if it’s cold,” the dragoness said as she crossed the room. She moved with her head down like someone under the watchful gaze of a harsh parent.
Quinn tried to ignore what her defensive posturing implied and give a warm smile, but it was so rare to see a dragon acting that way. The only time he saw it was when the Matriarch, Ragenta, gave someone a good chewing out, usually in public. He had never seen this dragoness before and judging from her current state, she had suffered worse than a verbal lashing. “Well, I do mind,” he said. “Nothing beats a warm meal. Just stay here. It won’t take long.” He disappeared into the kitchen.
He had plans to eat the leftovers for dinner, but that plan was shot now. Someone needed it more than him, so he didn’t mind. No one went hungry on his watch. Still, he wondered if his kindness would come back to bite him as he prepared the meal. It wasn’t uncommon to get a late-night visitor. While most humans didn’t dare travel at night, there was always the occasional wyrm who stopped by tired and angry after a failed day of hunting. But this time felt different. She was hiding something.
Preparing the meal didn’t take long. He placed it on a tray along with a tall cup of ale and carried it to the dragoness, trying to ignore the savory scents reminding him of what he was giving up.
The way her eyes widened at the sight of the food made it worthwhile. That look never got old.
“Go ahead and dig in,” he said.
The dragoness didn’t hesitate to practically smash her muzzle against the plate and start gulping down chunks of meat and bread.
Quinn sat down at the table next to hers. “So what’s your name?”
She hesitated before answering. “Rowen.”
“That’s a pretty name. I’m Quinn. So where’re you from, Rowen?”
Her fins flattened against her head. “I’m from nowhere.”
“Hmm. I never heard of nowhere. Is it nice there?”
“Very funny. You know what I mean.”
“Seeing as how we just met, I don’t know how I could possibly know what you meant.”
She rolled her eyes and glared at him. “Are you always this talkative?”
“Actually, yes. I don’t know about you but eating in silence is pretty awkward and lonely.”
“Maybe I like being lonely.”
“Fair enough. One last thing though: is anyone looking for you? I’d rather know now if there’s going to be an angry dragon or something standing outside my restaurant.”
“Wait, this is your—never mind. No, no one’s looking for me.”
He nodded and let her continue eating in peace. It reminded him of when Harold first arrived. The teen was just as dirty and distrusting when they met. Even after Quinn took him in, it took some time before Harold warmed up to him and spoke freely. They still didn’t anything about the boy’s past, but that didn’t matter anymore. The Harold that mattered now had put on weight and grown confident under Quinn and Alyse’s watchful eyes.
Rowen ate her fill, but she stared at the now-empty tray, her fins flat against her head.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“Just tell me what I have to do to pay for it so we can get this over with.”
“It’s on me. Don’t worry about it.”
“That’s it? I don’t have to do anything?”
“No, you don’t. I wouldn’t dream of charging someone who’s starving.”
“I’m surprised you’re still in business with that attitude,” Rowen said, frowning.
That made him laugh. “I don’t get that many starving customers. Besides, currency isn’t very important around here.”
The smile faded upon seeing she didn’t share the humor.
He quickly cleared his throat and decided to change the subject. “So, Rowen, I’m guessing you don’t have a place to stay.”
She stared at the floor, fins flattening against her head. “I have a place to sleep.”
“A pile of leaves in the woods doesn’t count.”
“Well, I’m not staying here. I appreciate the meal and all, but I don’t owe you anything.”
“Wait, what? I told you it’s on me. Hey, where are you going?”
She slipped out the front door without stopping. It wasn’t how he wanted things to go, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He went back to cleaning up and preparing to close shop for the night.
While he cleaned, he couldn’t stop thinking about Rowen. A dragon in her state was pretty rare. Every dragon he knew could take care of themselves. Now that he thought about it, she mentioned not eating in days. There was a forest less than a day’s flight from there that was teeming with game. Couldn’t she hunt something on her own? And with how filthy her scales were, she didn’t think to take a dip in a lake or a pond?
Now he regretted not chasing after her when he had the chance. Something was wrong; he knew that and still ignored the signs.
There was nothing he could do about it now. She had to be long gone by now, but that thought didn’t assuage his guilt. He had always been dedicated to helping those in need except he didn’t notice a cry for help right in front of him?
His thoughts nagged at him while he finished wiping the tables and flipping the chairs. He was finally done and preparing to leave when there came a loud crash from the kitchen.
A heavy sigh escaped him. Hopefully it wasn’t the rats again. Most creatures knew better than to linger around a dragon’s territory but smaller scavengers didn’t seem to care especially when food became scarce. He was not looking forward to having to plug up more holes. It wasn’t likely to be anyone trying to rob the place. That was even rarer. During his entire time living in the clan, he never once heard of anyone getting robbed. For one, dragons didn’t have much worth stealing to begin with and he doubted anyone would want to buy a dragon’s stolen goods anyway. And two, their sense of smell made it easy to track would-be thieves.
His pa used to tell him how larger places, called cities had problems with people stealing from one another. Sometimes it was about not enough to go around for everyone, other times it was about greed, plain and simple. It had to be the latter since everyone knew he would give them a free meal if they asked.
He went into the kitchen, not even trying to be quiet in the hopes of scaring off whatever it was. What he didn’t expect was to see Rowen again, hanging halfway through the window.
“Uh, hello,” he said. “You know I have a front door, right?”
Rowen refused to look his way, her fins flat against her skull. “Shut up. I…I…”
“You wanted a warm place to sleep,” Quinn finished matter-of-factly. “I did offer for you to stay here if you remember.”
“Just…shut up, okay? I don’t need your pity.”
“Yes, because getting caught breaking into a dragon’s home is such the better option.”
“Wait, you live here?”
“Yeah, just behind the restaurant. Through that door over there. It has a front door, too.”
Rowen swore under her breath.
Quinn chuckled and responded, “Okay, enough games. Get out of the window and come around through the door like a normal person.”
Rowen hung her head. “I…I can’t.”
“What? You too proud to use the door again?”
He would have laughed if she didn’t look pitiful, limbs dangling over the floor. “Okay, hold on, let me see if I can pull you out.” He reared up on his hind legs, seized her head, and pulled.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow! Let go! You’re gonna pull my head off!”
“Well hold still! It’s the only thing I can grip from this side.”
“Try pushing then!”
Pushing didn’t yield any better results. He went around outside and tried again. The result was the same. He sat on the grass and sighed.
It seemed there were only two options: either get one of the carpenters to take the whole window out or find a way to apply a greater force. Regardless the window would need to be fixed afterward.
He spread his wings and took to the air. If there would need to be repairs anyway, he would rather deal with things now than force her to go through the embarrassment of being cut out of a window.
“This is gonna hurt,” he mumbled.
He looped through the air and then dove straight for the window. He slammed into her hard enough to rattle the walls. Pain laced through his shoulder as he bounced off her and slid along the ground. Rowen gave a frightened, pained scream, the crashing of pots following behind her.
Quinn lay on the ground for a moment until the throb in his shoulder lessened a bit. He dreaded looking up and seeing what the escape attempt had done to the window.
The victory was short-lived when Harold’s voice cut through the silence. “Who the fuck are you?!”
Quinn swore and rolled over. “Hold on, Harold! She’s a friend!”
“What? But she fucked up the kitchen!”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Hold on. I’m coming in!”
He groaned as he stood up and limped around to the front of the restaurant. In hindsight, dive-bombing the window wasn’t the best idea.
The kitchen was in worse shape than he feared. Rowen had really done a number on it when she went inside. In addition to the various pots scattered along the floor and some broken jars he had left on the countertop, one of the cabinets had been broken completely from her collision. Harold stood in the middle of it all staring at the mess in horror. Rowen lay on the floor, a nasty abrasion on her side. Several of her scales had been shaved off from being forced through the window and it bled in places.
Quinn hissed in pain at the injury. “That looks bad.”
“Really? Because it feels really fucking great,” Rowen shot back.
“Maybe next time you’ll think twice before climbing through someone’s window. Harold, can you go get Alyse? She should know how to treat this.”
The teen nodded and hurried out of the kitchen, probably too eager to get away from the mess and responsibility of cleaning it up.
Once they were alone, Quinn turned back to Rowen.
“Can you stand? We need to get that cleaned and I’d rather not do it here.”
She hissed with every movement, but she managed to get up. “You couldn’t come up with a better idea?” she asked.
“I figured you didn’t want anyone to see you like that.”
“I think I’d rather take the embarrassment.” She tried to lick her wound but winced and quickly gave up on it. “Or you could have at least warned me.”
He shrugged. “Figured you’d try to talk me out of it. Listen, I know I said you can keep your private life private, but I’d like some answers.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“But you’ll throw me out on the street if I refuse, won’t you?”
“I’m not forcing you to do anything, but our choices have consequences,” he replied gently. “Like you chose to break into my place instead of just accepting my help, so here we are.”
Rowen said nothing, her guilt apparent in her expression. “Sorry. It’s just…the last time someone offered to help me, I had to…pay for it.”
Quinn didn’t know what kind of payment she was referring to and he wasn’t certain he wanted to. It didn’t seem like a pleasant memory anyway if the lowering of her voice and slackness of her neck was an indication. Instead he motioned for her to follow him into the back room. “C’mon, we can talk more in the back. So, obviously, you’re not from around here. Where are you from?”
Fear flooded her eyes as she refused to meet his gaze. “Nowhere. I move around a lot.”
He didn’t buy it for a second. A dragon who traveled a lot would know how to hunt. Most likely wherever she was from, she couldn’t go back.
“So where are you headed?” he asked.
“Nowhere. I like to keep moving.”
“Well, if you don’t have a destination in mind, you could always stay here.”
“You really want me to stay here, don’t you?” she asked, her fins flaring. “You’re that hard up for a female?”
Now it was his turn to frown. “I offer to do something nice and you immediately assume I have an ulterior motive? I’m guessing where you’re from, no one does anything just to be nice.”
“We I came from, we know how the world works. No one cares about you unless you’re useful to them. So stop wasting my time and tell me the real reason why you want me here.”
Quinn shook his head. It was déjà vu all over again, just like when he found Harold in the food stores. At least the teen was too thin to get stuck in the window. Hopefully this time it wouldn’t end with him getting smacked upside the head. “You’re dirty, hungry, and have nowhere to go. I just wanna help.”
She snorted. “Pity? I’d rather the ulterior motive.”
“You dragons and your damn pride,” he mumbled. In a clear voice, he added, “You want an ulterior motive, fine. I want you to stay here so you can take responsibility for my broken window.”
“But that was your fault!”
“Which wouldn’t have happened if someone wasn’t trying to break in,” Quinn replied calmly.
They entered the backhouse as Quinn liked to call it. Alyse took over the design for it and did a wonderful job. The main room where they were now as large enough for both of them to move about freely. Chairs for human guests, or specifically Alyse and Harold, were pressed against the wall along with the end tables and bookshelves. Quinn’s favorite thing about it was the plush carpet. He wasn’t sure why Alyse was so set on getting it installed but he loved how comfortable it felt to walk on.
Rowen walked over to the bookshelf. “You can read?”
“I can actually. I’m told it’s not very common among dragons though. Can you read?”
Rowen’s fins flattened again. “So if I pay off my debt for the window, will you let me go?”
The change in subject hadn’t escaped his notice but decided it was best to leave it alone. “Yeah, you’ll be free to leave.” He’d rather she stay, but if she really wanted to go, he wouldn’t stand in her way.
“So what will I be doing to pay off this debt exactly?”
“Nothing too complicated, just carrying dishes and wiping tables.”
“Is that it? Well, I won’t complain. At least I won’t have to worry about tasting you for the next week.”
Quinn had no idea how to respond to that so he decided to change the subject. “So what was your plan after you broke in?”
“Curl up on the floor and sleep. Be gone by morning.”
“And if I had caught you?”
“I have ways out of those.”
“I hope climbing out the window isn’t one of them.”
Rowen’s fins flattened and she turned away. It was a low blow, and he knew it but it needed to be said. He didn’t know if she was like this out of pride or denial, but she couldn’t keep doing this to herself.
Neither of them spoke until Harold returned with Alyse following behind.
The woman took one look at Rowen then gave Quinn an admonishing stare. “I can’t leave you alone for one night, can I?” Alyse asked.
“Whoa, whoa, who is this?” Rowen asked.
“That’s Alyse,” Quinn replied. “She’s a friend. You can trust her. Alyse, this is Rowen. She’s my newest employee until I get the place fixed up.”
Alyse chuckled and shook her head. “You’re really something else, hon. You’re the only one I know who catches someone breaking into their place and gives them a job.”
Quinn laughed seeing Harold’s ears turn pink. “I never caught you breaking into the place.”
“Good thing, too! You also seem to hurt your new hires.”
“In my defense, I saved Harold’s life. Ragenta would have done way worse to him.”
“I think I would’ve liked staying in the window,” Rowen said.
Alyse gave a gentle tap on the snout. “Shush, you. Quinn might be the forgiving sort, but I’m not. Just ask that one.” She jerked her thumb towards Harold whose blush deepened at the gesture.
The woman went back to digging through her bag. She set aside a large piece of cloth, some bandages, and a bottle filled with a clear liquid.
Rowen scooted backward. “What’s that stuff for?”
“We’re cleaning it so it doesn’t get infected,” Quinn said. “Think of it as part of repaying your debt.”
“Just another thing I’ll owe you for, right?”
“Consider this a freebie. And don’t worry about Alyse. She’s tough but she wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
“Lucky flies,” Harold mumbled. He quickly scrambled away from Alyse upon seeing the scolding stare sent his way.
Alyse rolled her eyes and poured some of the liquid onto the cloth. “I need to keep still for me, hon. I’m gonna clean your cuts, but you’re not gonna like it. Just bear with me. It won’t take long.”
Rowen didn’t seem at all bothered as she shrugged.
“So where are you really from?” Quinn asked.
“I said you weren’t gonna like it, hon.”
“Don’t focus on her, look at me,” Quinn said. “Talking will distract from the pain.”
Rowen hissed again. “I doubt that.”
“Just humor him,” Harold said. “If ya worried he’ll hurt ya, don’t.”
“He may not look it, but he’s the nicest dragon you’ll ever come across,” Alyse added. “Stop squirming! It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
Rowen snorted. “I’m sure he is. Ow! Sounds like a certain someone I used to know.”
“Oh? Well, maybe I can meet them one day,” Quinn said.
“You can’t. She got her stupid ass killed.”
Quinn couldn’t tell if she was upset or bitter. Either way, it was a sore subject so he decided to move on. “So what brings you here?”
“You really want to know my life story? Fine. I’m a domesticate from the Human Territories. I used to work for Cutter until I fucked up and turned on her. Instead of killing me, she gave me this”—she motioned to the scar on her neck—“and told me to never show my face again. So I crossed the border figuring I wouldn’t run into her here. So there it is.”
Quinn said nothing and looked at the others. He had never lived in the Human Territories so domesticate life was foreign to him. What he did know was that the other dragons didn’t like domesticates at all and no one would ever admit to being one.
Alyse was the one to break the silence as she poured more liquid on the cloth and moved to Rowen’s other side. “Well, you’re a brave one. I never heard a dragon around here admit to being a domesticate.”
“What more can you do to me?” Rowen asked. She winced at the touch of the cloth. “I lost my brother, my master, my friends, and my home. I gave up my dignity and my pride for revenge on a dead dragon only to fuck that up, too. I have nowhere to go and no one will accept me. There’s nothing left to take.”
“Now I don’t know what you’re going on about, but you still have a life worth living,” Alyse said. “So I don’t wanna hear any more nonsense about having nothing to lose. Just look at Quinn. He’s practically a domesticate but look at him. Half the dragons here would lose their minds if he left. Even the Matriarch looks to him for advice! You can do anything you set your mind to, hon. It’s never too late to claw yourself out of whatever hole you fell in.”
Rowen said nothing and stared at the floor. Her eyes gave away her true emotions. Something in Alyse’s words struck a chord.
“I’m not a domesticate,” Quinn said.
“Hon, you were raised by a human and outside of a clan. That’s a domesticate in anyone’s eyes.”
“If everythin’s done here, I’m goin’ to bed,” Harold said. He waved lazily as he headed out of the room.
“Ah, ah, ah! I need some help putting these bandages on,” Alyse said. “We’ll have to wrap it around her body. Just stand on that side. Lift your wings for me, hon.”
Quinn lay on the large cushion by one of the armchairs. “Well, looks like we’ll be having a sleepover. “Rowen can have my room. I’ll sleep here.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Rowen said. “I can sleep on the—”
Alyse gave her another tap on the snout. “Just accept the help, hon. Besides, you’ll have a hard time sleeping on anything hard until you heal.”
“Yeah, first rule here: don’t argue with Alyse,” Quinn said. “She’s the wisest woman you’ll ever meet and the nicest.”
“And don’t you forget it!” She stepped back from the dragoness and examined her handiwork. “That’ll do it. We’ll need to replace it every few days, but you’ll be fine.”
“Finally, I can go to bed,” Harold cried before rushing out of the room.
Quinn chuckled. Even he would have had a hard time holding the teen back from his bed at this point. Alyse escorted Rowen to show her where the bedrooms were.
Finally, alone, Quinn curled up as best he could on the cushion. It wasn’t big enough to lie on, but it would do. In the morning, he would see about getting Rowen her own bed. If all went well, she would be staying for a long time. He hoped she did.
He heard the whisper of footsteps on the carpet. He didn’t bother opening his eyes, figuring it was Harold to sneak a late-night snack as he always did.
“We need to talk, hon.”
He opened an eye to the woman sitting in the chair next to him. He quickly sat up. “What’s wrong?”
“You’ll need to see Ragenta first thing in the morning. Everyone accepts you, but I doubt they’ll like another domesticate around here. Without the Matriarch’s blessing, we’ll be playing a very dangerous game.”
“We could just not tell anyone. Who’s gonna find out?”
“You really wanna take that risk, hon? You know that Salise is just waiting for a chance to come after us.”
Quinn groaned. “Don’t remind me. But she could still use that to get the dragons riled up. Maybe anything.”
“And put Ragenta in a tough spot again?”
Quinn said nothing.
“It’s funny how you can sit there and talk about me like I can’t hear you,” Rowen said.
Quinn was surprised to find the dragoness standing in the doorway. He didn’t even hear her approach! Rowen shuffled into the room and sat down.
“Look, if being here is going to cause problems, I can always—” she began.
“You’re not leaving Quinn said firmly. “I won’t let them drive you out just because of some stupid label. Don’t worry about the Matriarch. She’ll listen to me.”
Rowen chuckled. “Influence over a Matriarch? You must have a mean dick to pull that off.”
“It’s not like that!”
“Then what’s it like?” Rowen asked, her expression serious. “What exactly did I walk into?”
There was nothing else for it, so Quinn explained the situation. He explained how Ragenta has feelings for him but he only saw her as a friend at best. This caused problems with Ragenta’s former chosen, Tark, who was secretly teased by the other dragons for it. He noticed the spark of hate in her eyes when he explained how Salise, wanting to become the clan Matriarch herself, provoked Tark into setting the old restaurant on fire, forcing Ragenta to punish him and play favorites to Quinn or do nothing and further alienate herself from the clan who was sick of the love triangle. She had chosen the former and killed Tark.
The only good thing to come of it was it didn’t give Salise the rallying cry she wanted. Several dragons developed a newfound respect for their Matriarch in making such a tough decision and everyone rallied around Quinn to help him rebuild the restaurant he had lost. But Salise hadn’t given up. She continued to visit and occasionally harass Quinn about supporting her claims.
Rowen listened to all of this with a bitter frown. When the explanation concluded, she responded, “This bitch likes to play dirty. You do know if you keep ignoring her, she’s going to back you into a corner you can’t get out of?”
“I’m not afraid of her,” Quinn said.
“You should be. She got a Matriarch to kill her chosen and burned your place to the ground and got away with it. You really think she’s gonna stop there?”
Quinn looked at Alyse who shrugged. He figured Salise wasn’t done, her regular visits proved that, but he also hadn’t considered that she would try something worse.
Rowen sighed and shook her head. “Wow, you’re really not too bright. Hopefully I’ll pay off my debt and get out of here before you fuck up and set her after me.” She turned and left the room.
Alyse shook her head as she rose from her seat. “You certainly know how to pick ‘em. This one has even more attitude than Harold did when he first got here. For now, let’s just worry ‘bout getting some sleep. We’ll worry about Ragenta in the morning.”
“Have you lost your mind?!” Ragenta cried. She slapped her tail on the floor, the thundering crack making Quinn flinch. “Did you really bring a domesticate here?”
Quinn continued to bow before the Nightstalker standing over him. Hopefully his submissive posture would keep her calm. He doubted it since he could feel the anger radiating from her like heat. He had gone to Ragenta’s first thing upon waking up, even before opening up the restaurant. Now he regretted the decision as she hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and she was usually more amiable after eating.
“Look at me,” she commanded.
He slowly raised his head, grateful she wasn’t using her Call on him. It could have just been his fear of her current anger, but her black scales seemed darker than ever like looking at a living shadow.
“Well, to be fair, I didn’t bring her here,” Quinn offered shakily. “She just showed up. And you know I won’t let anyone go hungry—”
“So you fed her. Now send her on her way.”
“Ragenta, please. She’s got nowhere to go.”
“That’s not my problem. She’s lucky she gets to leave at all.”
“But nothing! If I take in a domesticate, do know how that makes me look?”
Quinn wasn’t sure why but her words triggered something within him. The fear of reprisal faded under his sudden annoyance at her question. “You didn’t seem to care when you asked me to be your chosen.”
Ragenta’s anger wavered. Her tail swayed as if getting ready to strike the floor again, but the blow never came. “That’s different.”
“Why? Because you said so? Why can’t you say so, now? I’m practically a domesticate myself—everyone says so! Oh, I get it, a domesticate is only good enough when it's laying under you, is that it?”
He knew before he finished the sentence that he had said the wrong thing. In an instant, Ragenta crossed the gap between them and stood over him, snarling. “Watch your mouth,” said with a low growl.
He stood his ground despite his tail quivering. “You accepted me when I came here. I thought you were different from the others. Did you really only let me stay because you wanted me or because I knew how to cook good food?”
Ragenta stood there, all traces of her rage gone. Now it was his turn to be angry. He hated seeing that guilt on her face. She should have been irate for him thinking such a thing, yet she didn’t even rebuke him.
It told him all he needed to know.
“Wow. Nice to know where I really stand around here,” he said as he turned away.
He should keep walking. He shouldn’t turn around. Not after what she confirmed. The only reason he hadn’t been driven out or even killed was because he was useful. She had an ulterior motive for him. She didn’t deserve the time of day.
But he turned around anyway.
“Even after you rejected me, I never chased you out,” Ragenta said. “If I just wanted you for the benefits, I never would’ve chosen you over Tark.”
“Then why can’t Rowen stay?”
“Because you earned your place here. What’s she going to do to earn their trust?”
“I…I don’t know. But you’re the Matriarch—”
“That doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want. I stay in charge so long as I give them what they want or else Salise takes over. And you know what she’ll want from you to let Rowen stay. Even then, she’ll never be accepted.”
Quinn remained silent. He knew what Salise would want from him. She wanted to use him to keep the dragons in line. She wanted him so she could lord it over Ragenta that she got the drake that rejected her.
Still, he refused to budge. He promised to help her and he wasn’t going to abandon anyone just to save his skin.
“You’re not backing down are you?” Ragenta asked.
“No. My pa always said to help anyone who needs help.”
“You’ll lose your restaurant again. They might even chase you out.”
He shrugged. “Then I’ll leave. I don’t wanna cook for customers like that anyway.”
Ragenta smiled. It was the first time Quinn had seen her show positive emotion in months.
“That is why I wanted you to be my chosen,” Ragenta said. “Not because you can cook but because you’re a true dragon. Your friend can stay, but tell her to keep her mouth shut about being a domesticate.”
Quinn wanted to jump for joy, but he settled for a wide grin and a nod instead.
Instead of going straight back to the restaurant, he took a quick detour to see the carpenters about getting his window. Thankfully, they didn’t ask for an explanation as he didn’t think of one on the way over and agreed to fix whatever he needed in exchange for some hot meals delivered to them. The walk back to the restaurant felt good. Ragenta hadn’t demanded Rowen be chased out immediately or even killed, he had gained another employee even if only temporarily, and he might be getting that extra counter space he always wanted.
Not even Salise could dampen his spirits now although dragoness did linger in his thoughts. He still hadn’t decided what would be done about Salise, but he would cross that bridge when he came to it. She likely wouldn’t do anything unless it benefitted her in some way and he saw no reason why she would take interest in a random dragon. So long as Rowen’s status remained a secret they should be fine.
After apologizing to everyone for opening up late, and taking a few extra minutes to explain the good news to Harold and Alyse in secret, he got to work.
Surprisingly Rowen wasn’t among them when he got back. “After you headed out this morning, she said something about needing to take care of some things,” Alyse had explained. “I’m not sure what things she could possibly have to take care of, but she ain’t been back all day.”
There was no time to look for her now so Quinn decided they should just wait until she came in.