"Saaaage!" Rosemary sighed, glaring up at her brother, who was very happily walking around in a tree like there was nothing wrong with that at all. "Sage, come down! We're gonna be late! You know Ira hates when we're late!"
"Don't make me come up and get you, Sagie!" Parsley threatened, opening wings like her mother's blue ones, only a more delicate pink. "I will you know."
"Nu uh! There's cool bugs up here! I'll drop them on Rosie's head if you do!"
"I'm getting Ira," Rosemary said and marched away in a huff. "He'll get you down."
"Yeah. By cutting the tree," Parsley muttered. "Sage, come down! You love lessons with Ira!"
"Only when he's doing poetry! He's doing math today. You're the only one any good at that, Lee."
"Come on! Sage, if you don't come down now, you'll be getting a big whoopin' tonight. I'll make sure of it."
"Oooh. Big bad Lee's gonna beat me up 'cause she's biggest. Nyeh! Like I care. You just don't know what you're missing. These guys are better than any of Ira's lessonings!"
*Begging your pardon?*
"Ira!" Parsley shouted happily, clapping, as the blue fluttered his wings to land in the tree next to Sage.
"Aw, Ira! You smooshed some!"
*You can inspect the spiders and ants and termites and gypsy moths and whatever else you've found after school, young man.*
"Ira, how comes you're such a stiff?" Sage asked, pouting. "Otty thinks you're one, too, don't you, Otty?"
"What is Otty doing up in that dirty old tree!?" Parsley demanded. "Uncle Kippie gave those to us special! You can't get Otty all dirty like that!"
"Yu-huh! I asked Uncle Kippie! He said Otty was mine, so I could do whatever!"
"I don't believe you! You're a liar!"
"I AM NOT A LI--"
"STOP THE YELLING!" Rosemary shouted, her hands clamped over her ears and her head between her knees. She looked up at them all with tears in her eyes. "Sagie, please come out of the tree so we can learn stuff and play later."
"Aww, Rosie, I'm sorry!" Sage replied with tears in his own eyes. "I didn't wanna make you cry! Lemme get Otty and --"
Before Sage could get his stuffed otter out of the tree, the branch he was holding on to gave way, and Sage's entire balance was thrown off. He fell forwards, his small bare feet slipping on the smooth branch, and knocked his chin on another branch. He overbalanced there, too, and fell completely from the tree, bouncing his back off another limb and landing hard on his head on the ground.
Sage was dimly aware of Parsley and Rosie screaming and Ira giving a blow of his Trumpet Piece that deafened everything but the mental speech of the dragons and Uncle Kippie, Mom's black dragon, running.
*What the hell?* Uncle Kippie asked.
*Sht! Children!* Ira warned.
*Oh. Right.* The black made a motion that looked like a sigh. *I'll go get Tren.*
Sage didn't know what they were all looking so worried about. It didn't hurt. Not really, anyway. It kinda of tingled, like a sleeping foot or something. Well. No. His head hurt, to the point he thought he might be crying, but he couldn't hear too well, so he wasn't exactly sure.
He looked up to see his father leaning over him and pressing gently on various parts of Sage's body. Wherever Tren touched, the boy's body ached more, and then didn't hurt anymore. Sage remembered for not the first time that Dad was Magical in a better way than Mom. Dad could fix the broken bones Sage got, or the cuts and bruises he brought home, or even the mild concussions, more or less.
Finally, the deafening silence of the Trumpet Piece wore away and Tren muttered a few things and manually set Sage's leg, which resulted in a big huge scream of "AAAAHHHH!!!!!! OW OW OW WOW OWOWOWOWWOW!! UNNNNGH! THAT HURRRRRRTTSSSSAAAAAHHH!!!" from the child.
Tren sighed and poked his son in the forehead. "If you keep falling out of that tree, Sage, you're going to permanantly damage your growth plate, and you'll have crazy uneven legs when you grow up."
"But it hurts NOOOWWWWW!"
"Ira, can you take the girls, please?"
"Why? Whatcha gonna do? You're not gonna make it hurt more, are you, Daddy?" Sage asked, tears in his eyes.
*Come on, girls,* Ira said, shepherding them away. *Less screaming in the Tower makes everyone happier.*
"No," Tren sighed. "I'm not going to make it hurt more. You're all better now, Sagie."
"I don't believe yoooou!" Sage whimpered. "I still hurt!"
"Where? Where's my Sagie hurt?"
Sage lifted his elbow and whimpered at the blood there from skinning it. Tren smiled and kissed it. "All better?" he asked.
Sage obediantly lifted his feet, which had rubbed red, but not raw in slipping off the branch. Tren kissed his heels and then Sage's forehead.
"All better," Sage replied with a whimper and sat up to wipe his tears out of his eyes. "But Otty's not."
"No? Where's Otty?"
Sage pointed wordlessly at the tree. The stuffed otter was still in some of its high branches.
"Why were you up that high, Sage?"
"I wanted to feel like I could fly like Paaarsleeey."
Tren sighed. "Well, Sage, you can't."
"Cause Parsley's special." Sage pouted.
"She's not any more special than you are."
"Well she can fllllyyyy! And Thymie can swim like you and Auntie Del, and and.... And I'm just normal. I wanna be special, too!"
"You're very special, didn't you know?"
"I wanna be special in a real special way. Not the fake-special that you and mom say everyone's special in."
"But you are very special. You've broken more bones than anyone on the whole island, Sagie, and you're only six."
"So let's take it easy so that you don't kill yourself one day, okay?"
"Okaaaay." Sage looked crestfallen. He waited a moment, and then looked at the tree. "How're we gonna get Otty down?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"Well you're taller."
"I'm not that tall."
"But you could climb it..."
Kipfel was still there and sighed at the two of them. *I'll get the otter,* he told them both.
"YAY! Uncle Kippie to the rescue!"
Kip muttered and leapt and scrabbled through the tree. He hated heights, but his talons gave him a good grip on the tree, and he could jump .... sort of. He got the otter and dropped it on Sage's head before jumping out of the tree from about the height that Sage fell. He landed with a running step and an *Oof!* but was otherwise unscathed.
*Problem solved?* he asked the two.
They both nodded and Sage hugged Uncle Kippie and let Otty kiss him on the cheek with an audible smooch.
Kip smiled in spite of himself and made some lame excuse to go away.
"You know what I think?" Tren asked as Sage hugged him around the neck.
"I think it's time for you to go to class and apologize for scaring the living daylights out of your sisters and teacher."
"Aww! Can't we play make-believe instead?" Sage asked as Tren picked him up.
"No. I need to go back to work to make sure no nasty bad people come onto the islands."
Tren laughed. "Yes, like pirates."
"Pirates who interrupt WEDDINGS!"
"Who told you that?"
"And Ira. And Auntie Del, and --"
"So everyone but Mom and Dad, eh?"
"Nu-uh! Sandry didn't mention it, not once! Or Xylon!"
"Well, they're smart people. You should listen to them, and not worry so much about pirates."
"When I grow up, I wanna be a nice pirate!"
"Well, pirates need to know their maths, so they can navigate."
Sage boggled. "Really?"
"Mmmhmm. Maybe you should ask Ira to teach you maths so that you can navigate your pirate ship when you grow up."
"We're learning maths today, Daddy."
"Well, then what am I keeping you for? Let's go tell Ira we want to learn!"
"Kaaay! So then I can navigate my NICE!Pirate ship!"
Sage stared down at his paper. They were doing self-tests, and he was crossing his eyes in exertion with the counting.
"Two and two are..." He held up two fingers on each hand. "One. Two. Three. Four." This was so hard. What did a four look like again? Sage wrote down what he thought a four looked like. 8.
"Four and two are..." He pulled up four fingers, counting them off as he did. He sat them next to two others. And then he panicked, because he looked like he had too many fingers. So he held them apart. "Twenty four." What did that look like? 20 was twenty, and 8 was four. So that meant... 208.
Maybe he was getting better!
He certainly felt better about this whole maths thing.
Aw. Now he was into the taking away bit. That could be a little harder. "Two plus two minus two is still two." 2. "Nine minus five are..." He held up all his fingers and pressed one down. "Nine." He knew there were five fingers on one hand, so he took away the hand with one finger pressed down. "Minus five." Then he counted. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five." 9-5=5.
"Three minus two." That was easy. "One." 1.
"Four minus eight." Wait. That couldn't be right. 8 was four. He raised his hand.
"Ira!" he called.
Ira flew over. *Yes?*
"What's that one say?"
Ira glanced over at Sage's self-test and sighed in pain. Well. At least he was getting 3-2=1 now. *Four minus eight.*
"That can't be four," Sage said, pointing to the 4. "That's four," he told the dragon knowledgeably, pointing at the 8.
*No, Sage. That's eight.*
"But....... Oh, I'll never be a pirate for good at this rate!"
*Now, don't give up, Sage.*
"But I messed up too bad! I have to start over! I need a new test!"
Ira sighed. *Just... cross out the wrong answers.*
"I don't remember which are the wrong answers!" Sage looked like he was going to cry. Parsley and Rosemary turned around in their seats to look at him oddly for interrupting the quiet of testing.
*Well, check them all, then.*
"I'll be here til dinner if I do that!"
*It'll be just like starting from scratch.*
Suddenly, a bell rang gently. *Bother. Time's up!* Ira called. *Papers, please.*
*Come on, Sage. There's always next time.*
Sage looked glumly at his test paper and handed it to the dragon before hugging Otty tightly and sniffling a little.
*Why don't you all go off and play for a little now?*
Rosemary and Parsley both got up and wandered off, giggling. Sage didn't move. He just kept staring at his desk and hugging Otty.
*Come on, Sage. Go on, have fun with your sisters.*
Sage shook his head stubbornly and said nothing.
*Well why not?*
Sage shook his head stubbornly and still said nothing.
*Look, everyone's bad at some things.*
"You're not. Parsley's not."
*Parsley can't read words. You can. I can't make-believe. You can.*
Sage looked up at Ira. "Don't lie. Everyone can make-believe."
"Yeah you can!"
*I bet you a nice shiny apple that I can't.*
"I don't like apples."
"Lemon. I want a nice yellow lemon."
Ira rumpled up his forehead in surprise. *Fine. I bet you a nice smelly yellow lemon that I can't make believe.*
Sage nodded firmly. "Okay, then. Let's have it!"
Ira had lost his bet, but he had still given Sage a lemon. He didn't know why the kid liked them so much, but who cared? That night, he had dinner with Annabel, Tren, Kip, Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary. That's when the discussion came up.
"I've been thinking," Sage said when the conversation about everyone's day fell to a silence. "I want a dragon friend."
"Don't be silly, sweety," Annabel said. "You have plenty of those."
*Exactly!* Ira replied. *We're all your friend, Sage!*
"Yeah, but like. Auntie Del is Daddy's extra-special friend, and Uncle Kippie's Mommy's extra special friend. And Ira's Tor's extra-special friend, and --"
"And Otty's yours, Sagie," Parsley said, poking the stuffed otter sitting on the table between them.
"I want a special special friend. Like Thyme's gonna get."
"He might not get one, Sagie," Annabel reminded him.
"Yeah, but with Del going with him, he prolly will! How comes Thyme's old enough to get a dragon and I'm not?"
"Thyme is the oldest," Rosemary pointed out.
*You're all the same Hendish age!* Kip sighed. *You can't have one be the oldest by an hour and the others treated inferiorly.
*My esteemed Prince of Brooding is quite right,* Ira observed casually. *It is a bit unfair.*
"But Thyme is going to apply for a Bishel," Annabel protested. "You guys are harmless!"
Ira and Kip gave her a weird look.
"Okay, mostly. The point is, Thyme is with Delinet, and the Realm is a safe place to go, and they can both swim and sleep and breathe underwater, and--"
"But Mooom!" Sage protested. "I was thinking about it, and I don't want a bishel. I want a Clarus!"
Tren looked for someone to give a weird look and couldn't find anyone. He sighed. "Sagie, the Temple of Dea is very far away."
"So you couldn't go there by yourself. And it's more dangerous, since you can't go underwater for a long time like Thyme can."
"So can't someone go with me?"
Everyone looked at each other. "Uncle Kippie..." Annabel said sweetly.
*By the Gates, no, woman! I am NEVER setting foot on a boat again as long as I live unless I absolutely have to!*
"Ira?" Tren asked.
*Well, a long trip would put me behind in the childrens' lessons, and I have been trying to help Xylon out as much as possible with his research, but.... I suppose it could give me time to work on numbers with Sage.*
"REALLY!?" Sage asked, awestruck.
Tren looked to Annabel. "Well?" he asked. "You want to let another one go?"
Annabel looked at her second son, a little uncertain. "Well...." She let out a sheepish noise. "Sage, I don't know. I mean... Are you sure you can take care of yourself, Ira, and another dragon?"
"And Otty!" Sage replied confidently.
Annabel looked a little upset. "I guess we have to start booking a passage to the mainland," she sighed.
"YES!!!" Sage shouted. "Oh my goodness, Mom, Dad, you're my favouritest parents EVER! Thank you, thank you, THANK you!"