Five of the thirteen eggs have hatched. All have different personalities and abilities. With the kingdom in trouble, their care has become more dangerous.
Aaron stabled his horse, grabbed a meager meal, and went to bed. He'd noticed there was much less food than usual. The 'spirit woman,' as the pink dragon had called her, had been right. With these unwanted thoughts invading his brain, he fell asleep and immediately found himself again swimming with the blue dragon.
Aaron found his little friend approaching the sea. It lifted its head out of the water and looked out over the vast expanse, amazed.
"Big water," was all its limited vocabulary could manage, but it made no effort to contain its excitement. It leaped out of the water, then dived down to the bottom, then jumped and dived again, then swam in swift figure eights.
"Might be best to stay around here a while, little guy," Aaron said. "Big water has big fish that could gobble up a little dragon the way you gobble up those bugs. Some are full of tricks you've never thought of."
He knew his words would not be heeded. The water dragon would not be able to contain himself.
"Trouble come," said the dragon. "Aaron know."
"Yes, I know," said Aaron. "The people are hungry, and angry." He was unable to bring himself to say more, but the dragon had no such restraints.
"Pink sister say king not do what king should. Aaron like riding animal. Careful. King eat. Aaron catch meat for dragons, before gone. Catch for riding animal too."
Aaron thought of his horse back at the stable, and of the dragons at the house, of the tiny green hatchling and the eggs yet to hatch. He suddenly felt the need to go home and remove Demon.
"Not feed Green. Green fly. Trees. Tree many bug for eat."
Aaron didn't bother to correct the grammar. It wasn't in his nature, and, right now, unimportant. Instead, he spent the next couple of minutes warning his friend of the dangers at sea. Moments later he found himself in his bed.
Despite some lingering aches and pains, he was up immediately. The stars told him it was midway between midnight and dawn. Demon knew something was wrong, and danced and tossed his head nervously when Aaron saddled and bridled him.
Thinking of the dragon's words 'catch for riding animal too,' Aaron slung a bag of oats across Demon's back. Demon knew he was not a pack horse, and wanted nothing to do with that.
"Things are changing, buddy," Aaron told him firmly. "We all must do things we'd rather not."
As the pre-dawn sky turned grey, Aaron was able to get a deer. A pair of rabbits and a pheasant soon followed. Aaron suspected he was getting a little help from an unusual source.
Unloading his haul behind the cabin, Aaron soon realized he had another problem. He had known what he was about to do was illegal; it hadn't occurred to him that he didn't know how to do it. Hunting was an acceptable passtime for an old knight, but keeping any game for himself was not. Aaron had never so much as skinned a rabbit.
"What now," Aaron asked his horse. He was unable to translate the answer. The woman had said nothing spoiled in her root cellar, and Aaron hoped it was true. He hauled the trap door open and hauled down his prizes along with the oats.
He looked around himself in amazement. The space was huge, well stocked with herbs, potatoes, carrots, turnips and several other things Aaron couldn't identify. Another bin contained an assortment of fruit. In addition to food were blankets, several hay bales, and some kind of oil. Aaron assumed it was lamp oil and decided to leave it where it was.
"How did she do this?" Stunned, Aaron made his way out of the cellar, carefully hiding it again. He walked Demon to a hidden grove under the trees behind the cabin. The horse fussed a bit, but seemed to sense this was the safest place, and stayed.
Aaron entered the house, and the dragons looked at him expectantly. Since he'd left well before breakfast, he had no food. The cabin smelled of messes four dragons had made overnight, and it gave him an idea. He opened the window above the sink.
The red dragon watched closely.
"If you're thinking of going anywhere, you're going to have to go through your sister," said Aaron.
His plan worked. Flies were soon buzzing through the open window, and all the dragons were happily chasing them. It wouldn't be enough, but it would work for now. Aaron moved the chair as close to the fresh air as possible. The smell let him know he couldn't keep growing dragons in the cabin much longer.
Pink seemed to know what he was thinking. "Later we must go outside," she said. "You guard as best you can. I have talked to Red. She understands that she will most likely die if she does anything foolish."
Aaron leaned back in his chair, watching them chase flies. It was comical, and he relaxed a little. Soon he was snoring.
"Watch and listen," Aaron heard the woman's voice. "Yes, you are sleeping. It is the easiest way to speak to you without using much energy. I will show you how to skin the deer. I would not advise you to tan the hide. The process smells, and will attract attention."
"Good. You make the first cut here."
Though Aaron knew he was asleep, he could see and hear all the details.
"Can you do it now?"
"Aaron, I know what you are thinking. You are an idealist, but you are no fool. Yes, people will starve. There is nothing you can do about that. If the king knew about the food, he'd take it for himself. If you shared with anyone else, word would get around, it would be gone in a day, and you'd be hanged for treason."
"I know it," Aaron admitted.
"My time in this world is short. Soon I must join my sisters. I would see the dragons safe before I go. The kingdom must solve its own problems. I can not. Nor can you."
Aaron woke to the sound of hoofbeats on the road. A hunting horn sounded nearby.
"Hunters,' said Pink. "They will find nothing. What animals are left are heading for the mountains."
Aaron had no doubt she was right. He went out to the root cellar and skinned the deer. Perhaps if he boiled the skin till it was soft, the dragons could eat that too. He wasn't sure about the entrails. Finding a shovel in the well stocked cellar, he placed a small scoop behind the cabin.
It was time to let them outside. After stern warnings from Aaron and Pink, they headed for the area behind the cabin, with the forest close by. Red and Green were thrilled. They raced around, up and down trees, flapping their wings and snapping up bugs as they went. Pink was cautious, but she knew she must exercise her wings, and she made a great effort, flapping onto a fallen log,then back to the ground.
"No!" Aaron said firmly when Mountain tried to climb into his lap. "You must find food. Learn how to use all those wings you have. Practice climbing."
Mountain looked at him with sad eyes.
"Don't worry. You can sleep with me tonight. Go find yourself something to eat."
Aaron sat on the log beside Pink. The impact of what he'd just said hit him. He couldn't go home. If he did, Demon would become horse meat. There would be no food for him, either. He watched the mountain dragon amble around the small clearing, finding the food he'd left for him. Pink saw him eating and joined him.
Aaron found himself wishing he'd allowed the dragon to climb into his lap. He suddenly felt lonelier than he had in his life. He knew his life had changed forever.
The afternoon passed with the dragons exploring everything nearby. It was all new and exciting to them. Once the mountain dragon found the food, he eagerly turned over logs and rocks searching for more. Red and Green darted about under leaves and twigs finding tasty insects. It didn't take them long to discover the tastiest. Aaron checked the eggs several times. None were ready to hatch.
As the sun set and the air cooled, Aaron ordered them back into the cabin. He expected some trouble from Red, and was surprised when she came inside easily. Perhaps she didn't want to spend the night outside alone.
Aaron grabbed the blankets he'd brought from the cellar and went out to sleep next to his horse. Mountain followed him, and Aaron remembered his promise. He wrapped himself in his blanket with the dragon snuggled next to him.
Moments later, he was not surprised to find himself swimming with the water dragon. What did surprise him was the mountain dragon had joined them, and was happily swimming in circles around them.