"Don't throw it in the dirt!" said Mavrik urgently. Mitch was about to let go of the sheep carcass, but he dragged it away from the edge instead. He jumped from the tray of the battered old truck and hefted the meat onto his shoulder.
"I hope I don't do my back in," he muttered, then threw it onto the sheet beside the other carcass. "Dinner is served," he said with a deep bow.
Mavrik eyed the two small, dressed carcasses. "That doesn't look like much."
"Alex says you're getting fat from eating and not moving."
"There's nothing wrong with that."
Mitch opened his mouth, but a noise overhead distracted him. They looked up and saw an oddly shaped aircraft pass over on its way to the airport. It disappeared behind a row of trees and Mitch sighed. "Shuttle from an interplanetary freighter."
Mavrik had no idea what Mitch meant, but he knew that look. "You'll be following one." Mitch looked at him in surprise. "Alex told me you're thinking of leaving your home. It is a hard thing to do, this travelling with no hope of return. You don't realise how hard it is until you reach your destination."
"You found your way back, so I won't have a problem."
"A week ago I knew I wasn't going back."
"Are you ready for your trip?"
Mavrik flexed his wing and looked at the scar. "It feels stiff, but the pains have gone. That's an impressive scar."
"Will it impress the lady dragons?"
"Males!" exclaimed Alex from the door. Mitch and Mavrik started guiltily. "You're the same across species! I don't believe it." She stalked into the stable. "Wing," she demanded. Mavrik unfurled his wing again so she could examine it. "Does this hurt? This?" Mavrik answered 'no' each time she pressed at a point. "Good. You're ready to go back," she pronounced. "Eat."
Mavrik started on the two carcasses in a subdued manner.
Alex joined Mitch outside. He was pretending to look at something in the distance so he wouldn't have to meet her eye. "Are you definite about leaving?"
"Yes." He was relieved that she wasn't going to go on about what he had said in the stable. "There's nothing to keep me here."
He looked at her silently, then said "No, but this came from the Planetary Council yesterday." He pulled a letter from his pocket and handed it to her.
She read it and gaped at him. "Banned? They can't do that! You haven't even accepted the job with Sector Law. 'Affected by alien influences' indeed." She screwed the letter into a ball. "Xenophobic bastards."
"Looks like I have to leave even if I don't take the job." Mitch took the letter from her. "Mav! We need some fire out here." A long tongue of blue flame shot from the door. Mitch threw the paper ball into the flame. It vanished in an instant. "Thanks!" They stood silently in the sun and listened to Mavrik eat.
Pen rode into the yard and brought Mitch's bike to a stop in front of them. "This thing is fun! I should buy one."
"You'll lose your 'crazy old gardener' image," said Mitch.
Pen sighed and nodded. "Ah well. How is the patient?"
"He's fine," said Alex. "All he needs is a week of rest, then he'll be 100 percent, apart from the scar," she turned to Mitch, "which will impress the women."
Mitch coughed and looked away.
"Good!" said Pen. He paused in thought. "Yes," he said slowly. "I remember looking after him."
Mavrik appeared at the door, munching on the last of the meat. "How can you remember what is yet to happen?"
"It hasn't happened to you, but it has happened to me," explained Pen. "Getting your head around it is one of the problems with time travel. One more thing," he added. "You must never tell me-then about me-now."
The three just blinked at him. Finally Mavrik said "What?"
"When you get back," explained Pen patiently, "Don't talk about what you have seen here."
"Oh," said Mavrik eventually. "Why?"
"It will be bad."
"Time paradoxes!" said Mitch suddenly.
"Exactly!" exclaimed Pen. "This is why I can't tell... No, sorry. Forget that."
"Forget what?" asked Alex.
"Time paradoxes?" asked Mavrik.
"Hang on-" began Mitch.
Pen waved them to silence. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Right. Are you ready Mavrik?"
"Yes." He turned to Mitch and Alex. "Thank you for your help. Usually I would give you a gift, but I have nothing here."
"Just seeing a real dragon was pretty good," said Mitch.
Alex stepped forward and rubbed his neck. "Look after yourself, and avoid ballistas." She turned to Pen. "Do you have all your stuff?"
"What stuff?" wondered Pen.
"Staff, cloak, pointy hat- stuff like that."
"Oh! I don't need those any more," said Pen dismissively. "That was just stuff. Stand away, Alex."
Alex and Mitch moved away from the wizard and the dragon. "Good luck," said Mitch. Alex waved silently.
A cold wind sprang up from nowhere and was gone in an instant. Mavrik leapt in the air with his wings outstretched and roared. He flashed with light and was gone, leaving behind a sculpture of fog that dissipated in the warm air. There was a loud peal of thunder.
The last echoes rumbled away long before anyone spoke. "I wish I could see dragons again," said Mitch.
"Yeah," sighed Alex.
Pen went to the truck and retrieved his walking stick. He hunched over and leaned on the cane. The crazy old gardener was back. "Dragons, yes. That's nice. Dragons there used to be. I saw one once, I did. Me. Hee hee hee."
"Shut up," said Mitch. He smiled suddenly. "We know your name."
The mid-day sun heated the parade ground of the keep. People dozed in the shade; some knights sat beside a ballista and chatted idly, their armour on the ground near their feet.
An icy wind sprang up, blowing dust, straw and frightened chickens away from the centre of the yard. There was a crack of thunder and from nowhere came a dragon roaring with its wings outstretched. It dropped to the ground and shook frost from its body, then looked around the yard. The frightened people huddled against the keep walls.
Mavrik saw the knights and the ballista, and stalked over to them. One knight grabbed for a sword, but Mavrik was too fast for him. He knocked the human down and pinned him there with a hand. "Move away," he said to the others and drew a deep breath. They ran as he flamed the ballista until it was blazing.
He picked up the frightened knight and looked at him. "I know you! You're the one who called me a coward."
The knight swallowed. "Ah-ha ha!"
Mavrik put him down, and gestured at the ruined ballista. "You call me a coward, yet you tried to kill me with that." He scowled at the rest of the knights. "Well, I'm back," he growled. "And I am pissed off!"
Without another word he leaped into the air and flew off, heading for an island in the middle of the fens.