by Amanda Cast
“Well, at least they can talk and follow instructions,” Serene said and slumped into an overstuffed chair. “I’m beat though. It’s been such a long day. I could totally use some sleep.”
Pandora nodded and plopped onto a couch without ceremony. She did not notice that the hatchings were covered in a strange membrane when they were born. She was the first to embrace them all. Now the once wet substance was hard and caked onto her best tunic. She picked at the hard stuff and sighed.
“I think that the mothers lick that off,” Serene said, noticing her cousin’s distress.
“I guess I should have read those books too. You’ve done a great job welcoming them into the world.”
“Oh, but you helped birth them. That was so sweet if not a little bit terrifying. They’re so precious.”
“I’m worried,” Pandora said softly.
“What for?” Serene asked, pulling her hair off of the back of her neck and attempting to twist it
“Well, now they’re hatched. They seem so… vulnerable. They do not have scales to protect them, and their magic seems weak. I don’t think they could defend themselves against mages. Only that one book mentioned anything about dragon young right?”
Serene nodded. “Yeah, he was the only one that mentioned hatchlings.”
“Do you think maybe that is because he’s the only one that has ever seen one? I mean, I know that they have an idea of what dragon eggs look like, but they’ve never seen one? Why do you think that is?”
Serene thought about this for a little while. “Probably because dragons keep their young hidden away from the world until they reach a certain age?”
“I think that’s just it,” Pandora said, nodding. “I think we should try and find dragons to take them. I don’t want the mages to get a hold of them.”
Serene agreed. “Perhaps Daddy will take us to one of their kingdoms.”
“I don’t know if I want to deal with kingdoms,” Pandora said. “They have wars. They might abuse them just as the mages want to.”
“I didn’t think of that,” Serene admitted.
Pandora bit back a rather biting comment about Serene never thinking. “Well, we’re both exhausted. To keep them safe they should probably sleep with us.”
Serene looked heartened by this idea. She got to her feet a little slower than usual, but it was a normal pace for most. Pandora grunted when she hefted herself up.
After some arguing they agreed to sleep in the Blue Room. Pandora couldn’t sleep in Serene’s cluttered room. She started itch terribly all over. The girls picked up two of the hatchlings each and carted them up the stairs.
“Sleeping is never overrated,” Serene huffed. “Man, these things are heavy.”
“Agreed,” Pandora said fondly.
“We could walk, if it troubles you,” Ruby said with a flick of its barbed tail.
“No, precious, that is quite all right,” Pandora said. “Before long you will be so large we won’t be able to hold you at all. That will be very sad for us.”
“All right then,” Ruby said and close its eyes.
When they managed to get into the blue room after much angling, position, and experimenting, the girls deposited their “children” onto the bed. Serene started to wash her face and brush her hair. Pandora went to her wardrobe and dug out two night gowns. She wadded up one of them and lobbed it over to Serene. It unraveled as it was flying through the air, but it made it over to her and she grabbed it with her wet hands.
“You could have waited,” she said testily.
“Sorry,” Pandora muttered, but she didn’t really sound contrite or spiteful when she said it.
Serene gave her a dirty look before she slid behind the dressing screen. It was decorated with tree branches blooming in the spring. The flour petals were pink and blue and the ribbing for the entire thing was an alloy that appeared to be silver, but it didn’t tarnish or require the attention that silver did. There were no enchantments that stuck well to silver. Magic just seemed to go through it.
The night gown was too big for Serene in every way. The bottom of it pooled around at her feet. It didn’t drag the ground so much as it was piled on it. The sleeves were far too long as well and lacked the ruffles that Serene was fond of. Even the neck line dipped a little too low. She bunched it up and concentrated as she tied the drawstring so that it would stay up around her neck.
Pandora grinned with she saw her cousin. “You look like a three year old wearing her mother’s things.”
Serene’s expression was direly sour. “It’s not my fault you have giant in your line somewhere,” she grumbled.
“I don’t have giant,” Pandora said with a small laugh. “Let’s go to bed. Get comfortable you four.”
The hatchlings moved with some difficulty over the soft bedding, but they made it up to the pillows and curled into tight little balls. The girls joined them, staying close to the edge of the bed.
“Good night, Serene.”
“Good night, Pandora.”
The lights went out.
Breakfast was not exactly eventful, but it was not exactly normal for the small family of three either with four small dragons to feed. The girls woke up early to four whining hatchlings begging to be fed.
“First things first,” Pandora said and went to the privy. She then made each of the hatchings use it in turn.
“Mother, this is unseemly,” Topaz told her, flicking its tail. It eyed its mother figure dubiously.
“How do you know what is unseemly or not?” she asked as she pointedly looked at the door. “You were just born yesterday afternoon.”
“Dragons don’t use privies,” it told her with certainty.
“Well, dragon or not, you’re using it. I’m not cleaning dragon dung up off of the floor. You’re not a human baby are you?” she asked.
“No,” it said, affronted.
“Well, then don’t act like one. You’re a dragon with full mental faculties for what it’s worth. I’m not putting a diaper on you when you can tell me that you need to unload and I can let you into a privy.”
She had very much the same conversation with everyone but Emerald. Emerald obeyed Pandora without question and curled up with great satisfaction into the crook of her arm when she was being carried down stairs to get her breakfast.
“First things first,” Serene said when her stomach grumbled. “Hatchlings first and then the mommies.”
“Can we call you Momma?” Star asked. She preferred just to be called by the second half of her name.
“Sure you can,” Serene said and scratched her right under the eyes. Star crooned with pleasure. “It will help Pandora and I keep everything straight. What do you think, Pandora?”
Pandora nodded and sifted through the meat box for the paste for the hatchling. “It sounds perfectly fine. What do you want to call me?”
“You’re just mother,” Emerald said with a definitive nod of her little chin. “You act like one.”
“And what do I act like?” Serene asked sharply.
“You’re too emotional to be a Mother. You must be a Momma,” Ruby said and wiggled expectantly for breakfast on the kitchen counter.
“Hurry up and find it. The cooks’ll be furious if they catch us in here with the hatchlings,” Serene said with an anxious glance over her shoulder.
Pandora sighed. “You’re their mistress. Tell them that things are changing a bit now that we have hatchlings in the house.” She found the pot and pulled it out of the box. She grunted when the weight of it pulled against her arms. She used her butt to close the door, since she did not trust her balance with so much weight hanging from her front.
“All right children,” she said. “Give Momma a minute to get bowls and a spoon and we’ll have you served right up.”
“Can you heat it first?” Ruby asked. Smoke furled from his nostrils in anticipation of heating it up himself.
“No flaming in the house,” Pandora said with a stern look.
“Yes, Mother,” he said sullenly. He dropped his head as a sign of submission.
“Here, Pandora, you get the bowls and I’ll work on the spell to heat the stuff in them,” she said.
Pandora nodded. She had not talent for magic. Serene could cast some spells, or at least the easiest ones. Pandora could not even snuff out a candle without her own breath. She was a fighter—not a mage.
After the meat paste was scooped into the bowls Pandora covered the pot and put it back. When she turned back around Serene had one of the bowls in her hands. Her eyes were shut, but it was a loose type of shut instead of the tight squinting that was so common among those who are concentrating. She looked as though she could have been sleeping while standing.
It amazed Pandora at how quickly she heated up each one and put them down in front of the dragons.
“When you’re older we’ll actually cook for you… or have meals prepared for you anyway,” Serene said awkwardly. She looked a little strained around her eyes.
“Go up and get dressed, Serene,” Pandora said after a while. “I’ll make sure that they finish eating and then you can watch them while I go up and get dressed.”
“All right,” Serene agreed and patted Ruby on the head before heading out of the kitchen.
The hatchling didn’t feel like talking while they were eating. Their front claws gripped the edge of the bowl as they attempted to scarf down their food without the bowl moving too much. Pandora thought it was cute as she watched their tiny, long bodies fighting to eat. Their tiny wing flapped in the air as if attempting to keep their balance.
Ruby was the first to get done. He let off a burp that also let out a smelly cloud of smoke. “Augh, I’m tired!” he said in a chirping, whirling voice. “Mother, can I go back to sleep?”
“You just woke up,” Pandora said skeptically. “Well, wait for your Momma to come down and we’ll discuss the idea of you just eating and sleeping today.”
“Oh, I don’t want to eat and sleep all the time,” Ruby said, looking a little hurt. His eyes were such a dark red they almost looked black. It didn’t look nearly as frightening as they could look with his sad expression.
“Oh, I’m sorry, love,” Pandora said soothingly. “I just don’t know much about raising dragons. I’ve never done it before, you see.”
“There is a first time for everything,” Star said sagely.
“Yes, of course,” Pandora agreed. “Hatchlings aren’t nearly as common as human babies. There would be plenty of advice and comfort coming from everywhere if that were the case, but we’re playing very much by ear. Are you all tired?”
“Oh yes, Mother,” Topaz said with his eyelids drooping.
“Well, we’ll see when your Momma arrives.”
“Can we sleep in the sun, Mother?” Ruby asked with enthusiasm.
Emerald cringed at the idea and said she’d rather sleep in the heater room. The outside sounded incredibly overrated to her.
Pandora pondered this. “You can sleep on the bench in the garden while I spar today. If Serene is willing the rest of you can sleep in the heater room while she reads. Otherwise you’ll have to go wherever she’s going. She has much studying to do.”
Pandora jumped when she heard a loud and angry voice yell, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”