Bucky’s family occupied a precarious place in the village.
His mother was a midwife, and she was respected far and wide - not only for the birthing of babies, but for her general good nature and willingness to help any who asked for her healing. His father, on the other hand, was not possessed of such a nature. George was tolerated by his neighbors, but his quick rise to anger and slow descent into peace made him popular only with the other drunkards at the tavern.
Because George was unreliable, and his skill as a farmer had been depleted somewhere along the family tree, his mother Winifred had to bring in the lion’s share of the family’s money and bartered goods. She assisted in childbirth. She grew herbs and made medicines. She had a deft skill with a needle. And when she was particularly busy - through the late months of summer and into the autumn - she would often take one of her children with her as she attended injured fathers and laboring mothers. Bucky, and his sisters, were able to help with simple tasks such as drawing water, or were able to play with the other children of the household - as much a distraction for those who needed it as a reward for Winifred’s own brood.
And it just so happened that when Winifred was called to attend the lady of the manor house that lay on the outskirts of the village, Bucky was chosen to go along with her.
He hadn’t seen his mother much that week. She’d been busy, and his care, along with his younger sisters, had been generally left to the neighbor-woman who hadn’t any children of her own. (Or, when his father claimed responsibility, he was allowed to run wild and tend to himself. But that was supposed to be a secret that they weren’t to tell Mama.)
That day, however, she had been granted a reprieve. She’d woken Bucky with his favorite breakfast, and sang all the best songs as she’d put their cottage to rights through the morning. They were just about to sit down to lunch when the messenger came, and Bucky pouted all the way out the door.
“Hurry along, Buck,” Winifred murmured as he scrambled up the hillside beside her. “We mustn’t keep the Lady waiting.”
Why not? Bucky thought crossly, but instead of saying the words out loud, he’d only stumbled faster along behind. His eye lit on a decent sized rock - big enough for something truly exciting to be hiding underneath - but even though his fingers itched for a stick to poke it with, he hurried along his mother’s wake. He saw one of his friends outside, with a ball in one hand and a chicken feather in the other, and thought about saying hello, but he knew better. He hadn’t even had time to finish his lunch - he’d had to bring half of it along with him, and he’d swallowed a piece of bread before he’d finished chewing. He imagined he could still feel the lump of it in his throat. If he wasn’t allowed to finish lunch, he surely wouldn’t be allowed to stop and say hello and ask what that chicken feather was for.
It did not help Bucky’s irritation that the hillside was rocky and slick from recent rain, and that he’d slid and fell and torn the skin of one knee. He wanted to cling to his mother’s skirts and beg for comfort, but all she did was gently ease him up with a smile before wrapping her shawl more tightly around herself and urging them forward again.
When they reached the great house, the Lord himself was outside to greet them. He barely spared a glance for Bucky. Instead, he took the healer’s bag from Winifred, the one filled with all of her herbs and potions and equipment, and offered her his arm, quickly escorting her to the chamber where his Lady lay, red faced and whimpering.
Winifred was at her side immediately. “I know it hurts,” she soothed. “But you’re doing well so far. I need you to take some deep breaths with me, my lady.”
Bucky tuned out the rest - the quick instructions for water, and inquiries about the lady’s pain. He’d never been inside the great house before. The room they were brought to had no windows, which Bucky thought was very odd. It was lit by a fire in the hearth, and candles and lamps placed on all the surfaces. When Winifred directed him to the far corner, he went, sitting obediently, but turned around right away to see the picture formed on the heavy tapestry at his back. He’d never seen such a large picture before! On it, a knight raised a spear against a large, horned red dragon.
He wondered whether or not the knight won or the dragon won. The knight’s face was not very kind. Bucky knew better than to admit that sort of thing out loud, but he did wonder if maybe it would be better for the dragon to eat him. After all, it looked like the dragon was in front of a cave, and surely he could be excused for killing a trespasser to his home?
It seemed to take forever. Usually, his mama would let him go play. Or he’d get a job to do - boiling water, or singing, or something. But there were servants here to do all of the jobs, and he wasn’t allowed to wander off. All he could do was sit there and scowl.
And then it was over.
Bucky climbed up on his knees and watched as his Mama smiled and brushed her hair back from her face before bending forward again to wrap a little pink faced, wailing girl child in a bundle of cloth. She placed the bundle in the new mother’s arms - except instead of smiling, the woman grimaced and started before crying out, “I think… there’s something - oh!”
She gave a great big groan, and Mama passed the girl-child off to one of the other ladies clustered around the bed, and when the lady finished grunting, Winifred was holding something else in her hands, except it didn’t look like a baby.
It was green. And it had - what appeared to be, anyway - scales.
Bucky’s eyes grew wide as he stared at the thing, and then he whipped his head around to look back at the tapestry.
It was Winifred who asked the question that filled the room. “What is this?”
The scaly thing opened its eyes and blinked. A forked tongue flicked through the air.
“It’s a monster,” the lady wailed, but Bucky only grinned.
He’d never known that people could give birth to snakes before. He thought it was fascinating.
“It - well, it can’t be!” Winifred exclaimed, and tried to pass the creature to its mother, but the lady pushed her hands away.
“Set it over there,” the lady ordered, her voice weak. She gestured to the crib. “I don’t know what to do with it.”
It seemed to Bucky that if the lady had had the creature inside of her like a baby, then she ought to hold it close and calm it, like she was doing with the little girl-child. But no one asked him.
Neither did they ask him later, when they discovered the creature was missing from its crib, but he saw what happened.
The creature had risen up on scaled body, peeking over the side at his mother and the servants that bustled to and fro, cleaning the sweat from her body and rolling her onto her side in order to clean the bed. The creature’s eyes were wide open, and full of intelligence - and hurt feelings.
And instead of staying put for someone to deal with him later, he slithered down the side of the crib, paused to look back at the doorway, and slipped out the crack underneath the door.