Aaron has rescued Duane, a boy of about ten. He's proving quite useful, and he's met the dragons, one of which is proving to be a lot of trouble.
"This is the first one to hatch at night," said Aaron. "I wonder how it will be different from the rest."
The kitchen was fully dark now and Aaron added another log to the stove, leaving it open for light.
They all gathered around. Pink took her usual perch in front of the sink, and Mountain climbed onto Aaron's shoulder, followed by Yellow. The others gathered around on the counter top. Duane stood next to Aaron, yawning, but much too excited to sleep.
"Should we let the black one out?" asked Duane.
Aaron considered this. As a knight, he was well aware of the danger in creating an outcast. These were dragons, not humans, but the same principle might well apply.
"Perhaps we should," he said. "If we don't let him be part of the family, he won't be."
Aaron let him out of the jug with a stern warning, and he sat on the counter next to Red and Green. Red hissed a warning at him, and Pink gave him a warning glare.
Before long, the egg they were watching cracked open, and a purple dragon rolled out, uncoiling her long, thin body in the sink.
The moment he saw her, Black lunged clumsily at his new sibling, looking for all the world like he intended to gobble up something longer than he was.
Pink had had enough. Before Aaron could react, she had already grabbed Black in her talon and tossed him into the air. He sailed across the cabin, landed with a thump, bounced, and skidded into the woodpile, where he came to an abrupt and painful halt.
Purple seemed happily unaware of what had happened. She continued uncoiling her body and stretched out in the sink, blinking in the dim light.
This long, thin dragon had no wings, and, like Yellow, she had an extra pair of short, strong legs with thick, heavily clawed feet.
In the dim light, all Aaron could see was a deep purple color. No other markings were visible.
"She's a little Earth dragon," said Pink. "A cave dweller. She won't like the light."
"How do you know it's a she?" Duane asked.
"I know. She will live in caves and lay many eggs," said Pink. "This is the one I was expecting when that other one popped out."
"You mean the black one?"
Mountain was trying to climb down from Aaron's shoulder to greet his new sister, followed by Yellow. Aaron lifted them down. They greeted their sister, extending long tongues to say hello. Pink and Green simply stared from the counter top. Black had found a crevice in the woodpile and crawled in to sulk and lick his wounds.
Aaron pulled him out by the tail and forced him back into the jug. He was not willing to sleep with the little beast running loose.
"What's wrong with him?" Duane asked.
"I don't know. He hatched earlier today, and he's been crazy ever since. Red can be pretty feisty too. She spent a couple of days in the jug." Aaron was a natural storyteller, and Duane found himself listening to a slightly exaggerated tale of his adventures since he'd found the eggs.
Aaron turned his attention back to the newest hatchling. She had finished greeting her brothers, and crawled into the hay underneath the cloth to curl up and sleep.
"She'll be OK," said Pink. "She's tired."
"She's not the only one," said Aaron. He closed the stove and crawled under his blanket. "Time to get some sleep. Duane, you can take the spot by the stove."
He'd placed his own blanket next to the door. He didn't expect Duane to sneak off into the night, but he saw no sense in taking chances. He drifted off with Mountain next to him, wondering how many dragons would be in his dreams tonight.
In the morning, he couldn't remember. He awoke to find Duane already awake. Some of the stuff in jars Aaron hadn't been able to identify must have been tea, because Duane had a hot pot of it on the stove. He'd reheated the food from last night.
Aaron crawled out of his blanket, unable to believe he'd slept through that. He nearly tripped over some firewood that had been moved.
"It's a cave for the purple one," Duane explained. "Pink said she wouldn't like the light."
"Good idea." Aaron was impressed.
The rain had stopped, and Aaron opened the window so Red and Green could go outside. He'd take the others out after breakfast.
"I couldn't find any honey, so we'll have to drink it as it is," Duane said as he poured the tea.
Aaron had no idea if he had honey. He decided he'd find something for Duane to do while he took a full inventory of the root cellar. In the meantime, he was perfectly happy with the tea.
"You can trust him."
Aaron was slightly startled, but Duane, who had never experienced anything like it in his life, took a step back and nearly stumbled over the cave he'd made.
He regained his footing and stood shaking and staring with his mouth open.
The woman had materialized from nowhere. Both Duane and Aaron could see her clearly.
"You know who I am?" she asked Duane.
"Y-yes," Duane stammered.
"Aaron can trust you. Am I right?"
"Yes, of course."
"Do you know who he is?" Aaron asked.
Duane looked terrified.
"I won't spill your secrets, kid. I do think you can trust Aaron with them when you're ready," she said.
Duane still looked terrified.
"It's okay kid," said Aaron. "We have a bigger problem. What are we going to do with that black dragon?"
"You'll know when the time comes. Take Duane to the cellar with you. He'll know better than you what much of it is."
With that, she was gone.
"She's the witch," Duane stammered, still shaking.
"Yes. She's not so bad, once you get used to her. Now, let's have our breakfast and get the rest of these guys outside for a while."
Once they were finished eating, Duane found a large leaf, scooped the last of the stew into it, and put it into the 'cave' for the purple dragon. Then he carried the little dragon to her makeshift home and covered it with his blanket.
Aaron had to admit it was something he wouldn't have thought of. He picked up the jug containing the black dragon and carried it outside. The others followed. Aaron looked them over. He thought Pink and Red had grown since they'd hatched. Mountain was stronger and Yellow had gotten control of his legs.
He let Black out of the jug and he ran about snapping up any bug he could find. Duane had brought the dishes out to wash under the pump. Demon had wandered into the sunny clearing. That was where Black spotted him.
The little dragon arched his back, blowing smoke and blue flame. Then, letting out a blood-curdling hiss, he launched himself straight at the horse's head.
The old war horse was having none of it. He reared up, striking Black hard with his hooves, knocking him to the ground. Demon snorted in anger, ready to smash the dragon to a bloody pulp.
The horse paused a moment and looked at Aaron, giving him time to grab Black, who by now was staring at the horse in terror. He seemed to be in pain. Aaron was unsympathetic. Dangling him by the tail, Aaron lit into him.
"Are you crazy or just plain stupid? You know what that horse could have done to you? You could be lying there with your wings so busted up you'd never fly, ever! Or you could be dead. You do something like that again and you're going to get whatever you've got coming. I won't save you again!"
He dropped Black on a low hanging branch under the watchful eye of Pink and went to soothe his horse.
Duane, who had forgotten his chores in the excitement, returned to washing the dishes.
"What's in the cellar?" he asked as he finished.
"You finish up with that and we'll go take a look. Check on the eggs when you put them away." He returned to his horse, who was still spooked from his encounter with Black.
Aaron gave the horse a last scratch as Duane returned. "If he tries it again you can go ahead and stomp him," he said. The horse wouldn't understand the words, but he was fairly sure the dragon did.
Duane was stunned by the cellar, but not nearly as much as Aaron was. There, next to the potatoes, was his sword and shield. "How did she do that?" He really didn't expect an answer.
Duane, who had no idea it hadn't been there before, was more interested in the food. He went about gathering items for supper, and after warning him to ration the meat, Aaron left him to it. All thoughts of the inventory he'd planned had gone out of his head. If his things were here, the witch must think he'd be needing them, and she was usually right.
Duane had all he could carry.
Aaron contemplated leaving the sword and shield where they were, then decided that if trouble came, it wouldn't happen in the cellar. He took it with him.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Dragons ran about strengthening limbs and wings, and Demon grazed on grass freshened by last night's rain. Duane listened to Aaron's stories. Purple slept. Black made no further trouble.
Aaron held his sword and shield for the first time in months. If only the peaceful afternoon could last, he thought.