Snake Wrangler

A/N: Kennick is too old for a proper governness, not that Irix thinks she needs additional house staff to manage him. Edhard Delaine is the head of Irix’s household security, which incidentally includes miscellaneous tasks not included in his job description, such as chasing down the baby mage.

+++

Edhard appeared in the doorway of Kennick’s room. “Master Kennick, you’re to get ready for—”

Kennick was over the side of the bed in an instant, catching himself on his hands and propelling himself toward the side door.

Edhard jumped. “Hey—Kenn—”

He leaped for Kennick’s serpentine lower half, but Kennick managed to pull it out in time. He heard Edhard scramble up as he grabbed the corner and pulled himself around it.

Any moment, he expected to feel Edhard’s grip. He had to find some way to lose him, somewhere to hide. There was no way Kennick was going to a political meeting and pretending he wasn’t slowly turning into a snake in front of royals and politicians, while pretending he understood or even cared what they droned on and on about.

He spotted a window. It had a ledge. If he could access it in time, he’d be able to hang on it and cling to the trellis below and hopefully throw off Edhard’s pursuit. Irix couldn’t drag him anywhere if she couldn’t find him.

He veered toward the opening to freedom.

A body slammed down around his tail. A tug stopped Kennick dead. He lost his momentum, along with the balance of his torso.

Frantic, he planted his hands underneath him, pulling and reaching up for the sill.

“Oh no you don’t—” Edhard said, clawing his way up Kennick’s flank.

The floor tiles offered a poor anchor. Kennick could shift his tail under Edhard’s grip if he twisted it right. Maybe if he jerked everything to the side—

But then Edhard was on top of Kennick’s back, and Kennick’s torso was pinned. His tail looped and thrashed behind Edhard, while Kennick pulled uselessly. Edhard had the physique of a brick wall. His hands planted on Kennick’s shoulders.

“Come on, Master Kennick,” he said as Kennick struggled. “You can handle being bipedal for a couple hours.”

“Last time was horrible!” Kennick’s tail collided with the wall. He could get it out and over the sill, but he might hurt Edhard if they both fell. “I start feeling sick after 30 minutes! And I puff up like a biscuit and everyone can tell—”

Edhard pushed Kennick’s shoulders flat with a grunt. “Your master is waiting.”

“I’m not going,” Kennick huffed.

“I don’t think that option was on the table…”

“I’ll be sick then,” Kennick said. “You’re breaking my ribs, anyway…”

“Sorry…” Edhard gingerly eased himself up from Kennick’s torso.

Kennick tried to bolt immediately—an act which earned him a headlock.

He squirmed, gripping Edhard’s clamped arms. He shifted and wrapped his tail around Edhard’s legs, trying to pull him off, but the guard held fast.

The more Kennick pulled, the more he pulled his own neck. He stopped, finally, to catch his breath.

Edhard’s breathing had deepened as well. His body was humid around Kennick’s face. Between breaths, Edhard began to laugh. “Never a dull moment,” he said with a sigh of a scoff. “Never a dull moment…”

Kennick slowly released him. “I’m not going,” he said again, strained.

“Are you now?” Edhard seemed content to lie there on the floor, Kennick’s still-attached head as his prize.

“I can’t,” Kennick said into Edhard’s sleeve. “I’ll be bipedal while Irix is gone, if she wants, but I’ll transform at home—not in high society.”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing to negotiate,” Edhard said gently.

Kennick moaned.

“I had a feeling this would happen.”

Kennick looked up. His master stood over them, arms crossed.

Kennick exchanged a glance with Edhard.

Irix sighed. “Thank you, Edhard. You can let him go.”

Edhard hesitated. Kennick considered resuming his attempted escape, but thought better of it as the guard released him.

Edhard helped pull Kennick upright. Then he brushed himself off, tipped a polite nod, and departed, scooping his hat up off the floor as he went.

Kennick waited, chagrined.

“Stay put,” Irix said.

Kennick nodded, looking at the floor.

“So what is all this?”

“Can’t we wait until I’ve fixed this?” Kennick mumbled.

“We can’t put anything on hold,” Irix said. “I have enough portable energy reserves to last you all night if necessary.”

Kennick made a face. He preferred to use the master reserve downstairs in the temple with its warm, crackling energy. The portable energy reserves were angry little electrocution boxes. Callous, abrupt. Like shooting lightning up his nose.

“I’d have to use them every two hours,” Kennick said. “And because you won’t have a moment, I’ll have to transform all the way in order to revert back. That’s a waste of energy, and I’ll have to do it in some bathroom somewhere. Some of those fancy bathrooms are really small.”

“Maybe,” Irix said. “But you won’t have to do it more than three times—at the very most.”

Kennick’s expression darkened. “If I was sick with a virus, you’d let me stay home.”

“Life goes on even when participation is hard to stomach,” Irix said simply. “If we waited for perfect conditions, we’d never accomplish anything.”

Kennick rolled his eyes.

Irix flicked his forehead. “None of that, Kennick.”

“Sorry.” Kennick rubbed his forehead.

Irix turned. “Come on, then. Get ready and meet me down in the temple in half an hour with your trousers and other effects. You can revert right before we leave.”

“And if I’m late?”

Irix didn’t turn around. “You don’t want to be late.”

Kennick crossed his arms. The door to the hallway closed behind her.

Kennick frowned. He’d been punished by his master enough times to know that suffering through the night’s political meeting with his current affliction was probably better than finding out what Irix had had in mind.

With an exasperated groan, he directed himself back to his bedroom.

He should have planned this out better.

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