Tavros looked around the estate where he'd grown up, and sighed. It was mostly unscathed: the heavy stone walls still stood, and while gardens were somewhat overgrown they hadn't been damaged too badly. The smell of smoke still lingered faintly, and the manor was marked with black trails of soot that would take weeks to scrub away, but the structure itself was intact. The contingency spell that had activated upon his mother's death and the considerable quantity of lamp oil that it had ignited had turned the manor into a giant stone oven, radiating far too much heat for an ordinary person to approach even days later; Tavros wondered how exactly the elves had managed to keep his mother's body from being cremated.
He felt a stab of guilt and suppressed it. If he'd been here... But no, he hadn't been and he couldn't afford to think like that.
"Not too bad," said Lady Emilianne Fontaine, looking around. "I'll have Andraska re-gather the servants and start cleaning it back out. We'll need new furnishings, of course, but..."
"Can we pay them?" Tavros asked curiously. "The servants, I mean?"
"I doubt the elves had the chance to loot the place," his mother told him, "and in any case they'd have to know exactly where to look to find the treasury. It wasn't hidden with anything so simple as a secret door."
Tavros nodded thoughtfully. He hadn't lived with his mother for many years, but he'd certainly come to visit often enough and he remembered her ways. "Then why are we here?" he asked. "You hardly need my help to retrieve the family fortune or determine what to do with the estate. You could have sent Andraska for that."
Andraska was his mother's Seneschal, also a retired adventurer, and formidable enough in her own way: the servants, at least, both loved and feared her. Word was that she hadn't been there to defend Lady Emilianne solely because the lady had ordered her to get the servants to safety, which she'd done with a swift and brutal efficiency that included plastering one would-be elvish revolutionary across two walls of the dining room.
"True," his mother observed, apparently pleased with his insight. "No, I brought you out here because I didn't want to do this where anyone would witness it. I brought you out here to meet your father." She raised her voice and called, "Earl Vonderton? Are you here?"
A tall, lean man stepped out of the open doorway of the manor, brushing at the cuff of his long coat and straightening his cravat as he turned to look at them. He was dark-haired and gray-eyed, with a touch of silver at his left temple. "Lady Emilianne..." he began, and then trailed off, looking at Tavros. "I see."
Tavros glanced at his mother, who was nodding a graceful acknowledgement. "Our son," she said. "Tavros Fontaine. Tavros, this is your father, Rachim Starsbreadth, the Earl Vonderton."
Tavros sucked in a surprised breath, even as he watched his father do the same.
"I KNEW IT!" screamed a voice from the sky, and Tavros stepped back just in time to watch a massive silver dragon hit the ground with enough force to shake the entire estate. It wasn't looking at him, though; its attention was entirely on the Earl. "I knew you fooled around on me!" That massive head swung around, and Tavros thought his mother might have run if he hadn't been standing there. "And you, you shameless human slattern! I should--"
"We were on a break!" roared the Earl, in a voice that was entirely too big for his human body. "What I did then was none of your business."
"On a break, were we?" the dragon swung back to look at him. "When exactly were we on a break, you faithless--"
"Your pardon," Tavros said quietly, "but I was born in 532, so that would have been twenty-five years ago... call it twenty-six, all things considered."
Beside him, his mother nodded. "Your pardon," she echoed, sounding absolutely sincere. "At the time, I had no idea the Earl was mated. Or anything other than a rather attractive human, for that matter."
The dragon swung her head around and regarded the Earl again. "And we were on a break?"
"You should bloody well remember," the Earl ground out. "It was your idea. And who's taking care of the hatchlings while you follow me around, you distrustful--"
"Whee!" said another voice, and a much smaller dragon plummeted past the dragon's head and stopped to hover in front of Tavros. "Hello. I'm Windfang. You look funny. Is my dad your dad too? Does that mean you're my brother? Who's this?" He was looking at lady Emilianne when he spoke, but he turned back to Tavros before the paladin could even process the question, let alone try to frame an answer. "Are you going to come live with us? Why don't you have wings? Are you really a dragon? How come I never met you before?"
"Windfang!" both the dragon and the Earl spoke at once, and the fledgling dragon fell silent, then slowly turned around.
"Um. Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. Uh... fancy meeting you here?"
"Did you follow me here?" asked the dragon, a dangerous edge in her voice.
"I just..." Windfang circled around to put Tavros between itself and its parents. "...I wanted to see what was going to happen. Especially if Mom was going to kill you like she said she was. Please don't kill him. I don't want to not have a father."
Tavros turned, reached back, and pulled the young dragon forward until it could settle on his shoulder. "Easy, there," he said. "Yes, it seems I'm your brother -- or half-brother, at least. I'm a half-dragon. My name is Tavros."
The dragon cocked its head at him. "Oh. Okay. What's the other half?"
"Oh!" It looked past him. "Like her?"
"Yes," said Tavros firmly. "This is my mother, the Lady Emilianne Fontaine. And I don't think your parents are going to murder each other, though it does sound as if they have some things to work out."
"I'll say," growled the dragon, still glaring at the Earl; but a moment later she twisted and shrank into the form of a rather attractive and completely naked human woman.
"Wait," said Windfang. "Can I do that too?"
"Not yet," said his mother, "but you'll learn." She looked at Tavros, then back at the Earl, and sighed. "Though it might be for the better if you didn't." She turned and looked at them again. "So you didn't call my mate back here to try to seduce him away with your mammalian wiles again?"
Lady Emilianne shook her head. "I thought the time had come for him to meet his son," she said gently. "That was all." Then she made an equivocal gesture with one hand. "Well, not quite all. I was hoping that he might be willing to aid in the defense and rebuilding of Caristhium. As you can see, we've had some difficulties here... and throughout Sol Povos, to be honest."
"Difficulties," observed the Earl, "is an interesting way to describe it."
"Absolutely not," said the dragon-turned-naked-woman. "Your place is with me and the hatchlings."
The Earl turned stiffly to face her. "I would never abandon you, or them," he said, "and I resent the accusation--"
Tavros felt Windfang's claws tighten on his shoulder, and said: "Your Graces, give us a moment to clarify. First, I believe this sort of exchange is best reserved for a more... private setting." He gestured -- subtly, he hoped -- at the young dragon riding on his shoulder. "Secondly, while it pleases me to meet you both, it does not please me to be the cause of this familial strife. Please understand that my mother and I both wish for the two of you to do what is best for your... clutch. You have no obligation to us."
He paused to draw breath, but neither of the dragons spoke. "That said, we are in need of aid. Aid, and allies. Sol Povos is in sorry shape, and if the priests of Vecna have their way then there may be worse to come. And it seems that I may be the last remaining heir to its throne. Our need is great, but I would not endanger fledglings, nor deprive them of their parents. So I thank you for coming, and I am grateful for the chance to meet you both, but I believe that should be the end of it. Though if you'd care to pass the word to any adventuresome dragons who might be interested in helping to restore Sol Povos and don't have anything to lose by it, I would of course be grateful. "
The naked woman furrowed her brow, then strode towards him. Tavros turned his gaze to look just past her so that he wouldn't stare, and kept his expression carefully blank. She stopped a pace away and asked, "You weren't scared of me, were you?"
Tavros shrugged, feeling Windfang shift to keep its balance on his shoulder. "A bit worried, perhaps."
Her eyes went from him to Windfang and back. "You handled your half-sister well."
Tavros glanced at the dragon his shoulder, then quirked a grin. "I didn't handle her. I merely offered her a place to set down."
"That's what I said," the woman looked him over once, then turned and gave Lady Emilianne the same close examination. "You raised him alone?"
Tavros looked at his mother, curious. "Not entirely alone," she admitted. "My old adventuring companions stopped by from time to time, and there were servants and nannies and tutors. But until now, I never went looking for his father. And there wasn't anyone else in the picture."
The dragon-turned-woman regarded her in silence for a long moment. Then she gestured to Windfang. "Come, child. We need to get back to the others. Your granddam must be in a fine panic by now, not knowing where you are."
The young dragon's head drooped on its serpentine neck. "Yes, Mama." It crossed from Tavros' shoulder to its mother's arm in a sinuous leap.
The dragon-woman started to turn away, hesitated, and then turned back. "I am called Zelcha Coldstorm, the Countess Vonderton."
Lady Emilianne nodded as if all this were perfectly normal, as if the woman in front of her was neither completely naked nor actually a dragon. "You should come and visit," she suggested. "We can brew tea, and talk of the faithlessness of men."
The Countess eyed her for a long moment. "Perhaps I should," she said.
Lady Emilianne inclined her head. "The invitation is open."
Windfang turned her head to look at Tavros. "You're a good half-brother, Tavros."
Tavros bowed from the neck. "It was good to meet you, Windfang. Try to do better about obeying your parents, and perhaps we can meet again."
Zelcha Coldstorm took a few steps back, and a moment later she was a dragon. Powerful winds buffeted Tavros and his mother as she launched herself into the air, carrying Windfang with her.
Earl Vonderton took a step forward. "I should really..."
"Go," said the Lady Emilianne. "Get back to the ones who need you. And be better to your mate, you idiot."
The Earl gaped at her for a long moment. Then he too was a dragon, and a moment later he launched himself into the air.
Tavros glanced at his mother. "I imagine that didn't go as expected," he said. "Are you well?"
"It's one more thing settled," his mother told him, and began the words and gestures that would teleport them back to the temple.