Lance cut a glance at Anastasia. “I know you’re judging me, but you can see that from beginning till the end, I had no intention of harming anyone.” His posture was still defensive and rigid, however.
Ana wrinkled zir nose at the blue dragon, not believing him. “All right. Then what happened next?”
The other dragon seemed smug that Ana was interested in his tale, and his blue scales gleamed in the moonlight.
“When Mildred and I were finally left alone, I of course demanded that she explain everything. Don’t get me wrong. Mildred is attractive. Normally I wouldn’t have minded if such a lass propositioned me, even if she weren’t a dragon shifter. But I didn’t want to be dragged into something without knowing what I was getting into.
“In any case, all her cheer and pleasant manners faded when her aunt was gone. Mildred was severe as she stated that she and her husband indeed didn’t love each other anymore. She had been thoroughly disillusioned, and her husband was probably disappointed by his wife’s lack of interest in him.
“But they did decide to stay together for the children. They never explicitly talked about seeing other people, but they had a silent agreement that they were no more than the co-parents of their children.”
Anastasia frowned more and more, and Lance said, “Don’t go all judgy, Ana. I don’t like this, but I can sympathise with Mildred in this case. Who on earth knew why she attached herself to the man in the first place? He’s so coarse and devoid of charm. She must have had romantic notions about marrying someone wholly unsuited to her, believing that she could make a miracle out of it.
“Mildred added that thus far, she hadn’t been seeing anyone. She had no idea if Clive was seeing someone else, but she frankly didn’t care anymore, as all passion between them had cooled.
“But she confessed that she would look longingly at some young men, and occasionally some young women, and dream about having a future with them. She just never had the courage to act. Less because she was afraid of upsetting her husband, but more because she didn’t want her children to think she was a bad mother.
“I then asked her why she had to snag me, a complete stranger, into this plot. I know some people think they have no choice but to cheat. Yet, if I were her, I would get a divorce rather than mooning over potential suitors that I’m not even brave enough to pursue. Nevertheless, I just wanted to know what the deal was with Ivy.
“Mildred then took up her amulet. She pressed a button on it, and the lid popped open. Inside was a velvet, multi-coloured leaf. Before I could ask what it was, she put it in her mouth and swallowed it.
“Her smile at me became friendlier. She said, ‘You and I are strangers, but you look exactly like the type of man my aunt Ivy would approve of. I’m not giving you permission to touch me, but I thank you for helping me regardless.
“She explained that from time to time, her aunt Ivy would visit her, like a godmother. And every time she would commiserate with Mildred and urge her to leave her miserable husband. Ivy would also bring her a charm. At this point in the story, Mildred grew evasive and avoided my eyes.
“When I pressed her for more information, Mildred gazed at me in a distant, almost eerie way. She elaborated that due to certain reasons, she is — naturally infertile. However, her aunt Ivy dabbles in black magic… She helped Mildred conceive and have children, because Mildred really wanted to become a mother.”
“I can already see where this story is going,” Anastasia said, zir eyes going wide. “But I don’t like it.” Zir tail swished.
Lance smirked. “I didn’t say that I liked it. And you can probably guess the rest. When Mildred chews this magic leaf from Ivy’s amulet, she can continue to have calves and lactate. Of course, Ivy doesn’t want her niece to ruin herself by having children with her deadbeat husband. In fact, Ivy had threatened to stop giving her this magical leaf if she didn’t break ties with Clive and find a worthier man.
“You would think that Mildred and Clive would know better, right? Clearly this dark magic is affecting Vera and probably their new calf too. Though they likely haven’t noticed anything amiss with their youngest child, and seem to assume that the calf would have no health problems.
“Vera, on the other hand, is a different story. Both Clive and Mildred are complicit in harming her with this black magic. Even if Clive insists that it’s just a poor constitution and not something worse.”
Anastasia stared hard at Lance. “If you know the origin of Vera’s disease, then why didn’t you speak up when Clive uttered that nonsense about their daughter having a flu?”
To Ana’s surprise, Lance was undaunted, and he showed his fangs in a slight grin. “You’re missing what I really said. When Mildred told me about the dark magic, I had not thought about the magic’s effects on her offspring. It was only much later, when Freya told me about Vera, that I thought of the magic leaf.
“But since I had promised Mildred not to tell her story to anyone, I decided not to tell even our queen. Since Freya is our queen, I didn’t question her about her sources of information. But I bet that she knows something about Ivy and her black magic. Otherwise, how would she know about a child from an obscure family?”
Anastasia shook zir head; zir long, amber wings pierced through another drift of cloud. “Mildred’s not obscure. She’s the niece of one of the princesses. And even if she were obscure, that doesn’t give you the right to slander her.”
Lance frowned at zir. “Even after hearing this tale, you still have faith in Clive and Mildred? They are at fault here. And they think it’s okay to keep relying on these methods, even though dark magic is always dangerous.
“Maybe Clive is ignorant and believes that this magic just leads to poorer health. But I believe Mildred notices more, since Vera did come from her body, after all.”
The red dragon suddenly had a new thought. Ze said, “If the Queen rejected Mildred’s milk, perhaps she figured out that Mildred’s milk was tainted by dark magic. That could be why she knew about Vera’s illness.”
Lance’s face went tight, as though he hadn’t thought of this explanation. Ana continued, “Also, maybe Freya found that Mildred’s milk has the same poison that afflicts her and my mothers.”
At the red dragon’s words, the blue dragon looked angry, and smoke puffed out from his nostrils. “You’re so naïve. You think you can just draw connections like that? As if real-life problems would resolve themselves into such neat patterns.”
Ana just snorted. “Maybe growing older makes you overcomplicate everything, when the truth is something much simpler than you think.”
Lance persisted in his refusal. “I don’t believe Vera’s disease is from having poor health or contracting the flu. But I also don’t think her affliction is the same as what Freya and your mothers suffer from.
“I know we never got along, Ana, but I truly wish your family no harm. And I hope they will discover a cure too. Trying to get into dark magic investigations, in order to save your grandmother and mothers, will just waste you a ton of time and energy.
“Of course, if you insist on helping Vera, then you can start with Ivy and her black magic if you want. Good luck getting Mildred and Clive to listen to you, though. If Mildred were smarter, she would stop letting her calves drink her milk.
“And I wager that the healers Mildred and Clive have seen, can only tell that Vera is sick, but not why. “
Throughout this tale, Anastasia wondered how much was true and how much was made up, if this wasn’t a complete lie. Yet, was Lance smart enough to concoct such a complex story?
Nevertheless, ze couldn’t be sure of anything yet. Ze would watch and wait.
And, Ana grudgingly thought, Revi might know more about this matter.