by Amanda Cast
May I call you?
Much to Pandora’s pleasure the mage broke out into a sweat as soon as he entered the heater room. Pandora and Serene had familiarized themselves with the discomfort, but the mage could only sweat and call up a breeze that was just as hot and roiling as the air he was stuck in.
All it did was dry his sweat and make him hotter.
Pandora smirked from behind his back. He was casting about uncertainly. She looked at the fire place where the precious eggs were being kept safe. Not for an instant did his eyes rest on the fire place.
“Is something wrong, Master Hindeon?” Lindal asked. His lips twitched.
“Nothing that wasn’t expected,” the mage said sourly.
“Having a long day?” Serene asked with a cavity causing voice and twinkle in her eye.
The mage snorted and looked at her with thinly veiled disdain. If Lindal noticed he did not say anything. Pandora watched him closely as they neared the fire place.
The eggs were nestled in the coals. It took great care and some enchantments to keep the coals from flaring up. It was hot, but it was a steady heat. The eggs looked perfect.
“This is quite astounding,” the mage said, unable to keep the awe out of his voice. He made the room feel dirty and took out the joy. “I’ve never seen a dragon’s egg in person before, much less four.”
“Well, now you’ve seen them,” Serene said with an ungratified edge to her voice.
“They must be studied.”
“No!” Pandora exclaimed and then her hands flew to her mouth. Her eyes were wide open with shock from her own out burst. “They are not yours to study. They’re living, sentient beings—not test subjects.”
The mage looked at Pandora with a glacier gaze. “Dragons are dragons, little girl.”
“They’re sentient just like humans and elves. They have rights too,” Pandora told him stubbornly.
“They have their own kingdoms and everything,” Serene piped in.
Pandora did not know that, but then she did not read every book on dragons that she could get her hands on for the last two weeks.
“That’s very nice,” the mage said with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “But this is magic! They’re filled with it, and we must study how.”
“Maybe it’s just the way they are,” Serene said wedging herself dangerously between Hindeon and the eggs. Pandora slid by him to stand beside her cousin. They stood with their legs braced apart. Serene had her arms crossed against her chest, but Pandora’s fists were planted on her hips. Serene looked furious and Pandora looked dangerous—at least for a twelve year old girl.
“You’re no match against me,” he told them haughtily, “So it’d be best for you to move out of the way.”
“We’re not moving,” Serene said with a wicked glint to her eyes. “You’d better leave my home.”
“What do I have to fear from two little girls?” he sneered.
“Well, they aren’t alone,” Lindal said darkly from behind the mage. “You might be able to take on two untrained and defenseless little girls, but I’m an elf. I’m raised to fight the likes of you since I was younger than they are. If you think you can best me, be my guest, however, I would advise that you listen to my daughter and my niece and leave. They have spoken. The eggs are their responsibility.”
“But not theirs.”
“You do not own a dragon,” Serene snapped. “They own you.”
“The Faire says differently,” the mage told her.
“They could leave whenever they choose. They let the mages keep them in those cages. You mages flatter yourselves far too much,” Serene told him boldly.
The mage’s nostril’s flared. “You are a cheeky little brat,” he said, but he did not dare get closer or even move his hands with Lindal standing behind him. He had heard rumors about Lindal. He had no intention of making him more angry than necessary. “It does not matter anyway. We will see how long you manage to defy the mages.”
The mage simply vanished.
“That is rude,” Serene said bitingly. “You’re not supposed to do that in people’s homes. Any mage with manners leaves and goes down the street before teleporting himself. That’s just… unseemly.”
“This isn’t over with,” Pandora said tiredly. Her emotional outburst tired her out and she slumped a little.
“Oh dear,” Serene fretted and collapsed on a stool. “What are we going to do, Daddy? We can’t let them take the eggs. There is no telling what the mages will do to them. They’re so young and fragile.”
“You’re right, Pumpkin,” he agreed. “Listen, you two,” he said seriously, “It is very important that you don’t tell the mages anything about what these dragons can do when they hatch. Make sure that the dragons are clear on keeping their powers secret. The mages are not to know what they are capable of at all. Do you understand?” The girls nodded mutely. “Good, now, I need to get this enchantment up to snuff to stop them from ‘portin into the house.”
The girl’s nodded.
“Comfort the eggs and then leave. We don’t know if negative energy will effect them.”
The girls nodded and turned to tend to the eggs. They crooned to them in draconic and in common. Pandora imagined that she was caressing them with her words. “We will let no one harm you.”
The eggs seemed to respond with trust. They seemed to say, “We knew you’d protect us. We knew you would never let anything harm us. We knew. We’ve always known.”
Satisfied, the girls left the room with Lindal’s promise that when he was done they could come back in. Nothing went as planned after that.
One of the eggs started to rock. It was a desperate rock that knocked it out of the fire. The girls stopped and turned to stare at it. It shook and muffled sounds emanated from it. It was the topaz colored egg. Pandora was the first to approach it. She spoke to it softly and for a moment it stopped moving.
“Are you sure that you’re ready?” she asked, reaching out and stroking the egg. “If you are, I’ll help you if you want. If you’re not ready I’m going to put you back into the fire.”
Something brushed against her mind. It was more of an impression than a thought. Ready, it seemed to say.
“All right,” she said softly and stood up. Her knees burned. She was kneeling longer than she realized. It was only two steps to the fireplace tools. She picked up the shovel and then turned around. She raised the black iron tool over her head and struck it down on top of the egg. A hair line crack formed.
That was all the egg needed. It rocked again and split open. A small reptile that was roughly dragon shaped spilled onto the floor. It was the same color as the shell with the same swirls and lines. He looked at Pandora with eyes looked like solid, smooth, and perfectly round topaz.
“Welcome, Topaz,” Pandora said kneeling down again. She reached out for the little hatchling and it scampered to her and leapt into her arms. Startled, Pandora rocked back a bit, but she cradled the hatchling in her arms.
“Are you my mother?” it asked with a strange, androgynous voice.
“Yes and no,” Pandora said. “But you may call me Mother if you wish. You must meet Serene, she has also loved and tended to you all of your existence.” She rose carefully with a dancer’s discipline. She then walked over to her gaping cousin. “Topaz has decided it is time for him to hatch. Isn’t it amazing? He can speak.”
Serene reached out for him and Pandora gently handed him over as women exchange a baby from one set of ready arms to another. “He’s so perfect,” Serene said lovingly.
“He? Are you a boy, Topaz?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet,” it said. “But I am hungry.”
“Oh,” Serene sounded. “Well, let’s have the cook make you some meat paste. We can’t… regurgitate like dragon mother’s can, but we can get you something soft and safe.”
It was a good thing Serene had read all those books, Pandora decided. She would have no idea what to feed them. She just assumed that they would eat fresh meat. It never occurred to her that they would need something fine and partially processed.
Well, the other eggs decided that they couldn’t be left out either.