The kingdom is in trouble, and there is no safe place for Aaron and his brood of dragon hatchlings. Hungry hunters would be happy to eat them, and soldiers hunt for the woman who has cared for them.
As the day drew to a close, Aaron sent the dragons back outside. Purple and Brown needed a little coaxing, but once Brown discovered the abundance of bugs around the clearing, she was quite content.
"Starting tomorrow morning, nobody goes in the cabin during the day," said Aaron. "Duane, you take the tea and whatever you think you can use and hide it in the root cellar. Just keep enough for tonight and tomorrow morning. I smell trouble."
"I don't smell anything," said Duane.
"Listen. What do you hear?"
"Nothing," Duane looked at Aaron, confused.
"Is that normal?
"I haven't heard so much as a gopher all day," said Aaron. "No birds, and not a single coyote howled last night."
"Maybe they smell the dragons," Duane said hopefully.
"Maybe, but there's more to it than that. Things are bad, and they'll be looking to blame the witch. The soldiers are coming for her. I wouldn't be surprised if they burned the cabin."
"She didn't do anything, did she?"
"No!" Pink, who had been listening, chimed in. "It's the king's fault!"
"I don't know anything about witchin', but I know something about people," said Aaron. "It's unlikely, even when she was alive. It would only get her killed. She's never been a fool."
"She isn't bad," Pink insisted.
"I don't think so either," said Aaron.
Purple and Brown explored the new cave Aaron had dug for them and scratched around making it more to their liking. Black was still in a great deal of pain and barely moved, but he did eat the food that was brought to him, and he no longer tried to hide.
Aaron watched the others. Mountain and Yellow had doubled their sizes, and their wings had grown to match their body sizes. Pink was exercising her wings, flapping up and down from the log. As he watched, she managed to spread her wings and glide several feet from the log.
Aaron had never seen Pink so excited.
"I can fly!" she exclaimed making a flying leap back onto the log.
"You sure can!" Aaron told her, though she had only managed to glide a few feet. "You keep that up and pretty soon you'll be up in the trees with Red and Green."
"I did it again," Pink squealed after making it about the same distance, with White doing her best to follow. Aaron felt bad for White. In spite of her great efforts, he could see her wings were not quite ready.
"It's getting dark," said Aaron. "It's about time we get everyone inside for the night." He picked up Black and carried him in. Black seldom moved, but Aaron knew he could if he wanted to. He didn't want him creeping off into the forest in the dark. "Let's see if you can make it in the window," he said to Pink.
"I did it!" It had taken several attempts, but Pink could hardly contain herself. White was almost shaking with frustration. Pink flapped back and forth between the cold stove and the counter. The night was warm and clear, with a full moon and a light breeze, and Aaron refused to allow a fire.
"Will they come tonight?" Duane asked.
"I doubt it. Dylan is the Captain of the Guard, and I've known him since he could walk. He's smart. I don't think he'll send his men to a witch's cabin on the night of a full moon. They wouldn't like it, and he'll want to keep their trust and respect," said Aaron.
"But if they smell your cooking on that breeze they may change their minds," he added."
"No fire," Duane grumbled.
Aaron closed the window and settled them for the night. He would have preferred to spend the warm night outside with his horse, but something told him this might be the last night they'd all spend together here. He wrapped himself in his blanket and soon found himself swimming with Blue.
The water dragon welcomed him happily. Aaron noted how much he had grown, and was glad he had released him when he had. He would have a hard time to transport him now.
"Aaron must go," said Blue.
"What, why? I just got here."
"Sky dragon need Aaron."
Aaron didn't have time to wonder. He couldn't have slept any longer anyhow. Pink and White were both screeching.
Aaron dragged himself out of his blanket and joined them at the sink, followed by Duane.
"He can't get out!" Pink screeched
Aaron could hear scratching inside the large pale blue egg, but he saw there was no crack in it.
"He can't breathe! Get him out!" Pink was in a panic.
Aaron had never seen her so upset. He picked up the egg and tapped it against the stove. The thick shell refused to crack. He tapped harder, to no avail.
"Get the knife," Aaron said.
Duane grabbed the knife left behind by the would-be horse thieves. Aaron stabbed it into the shell and twisted. It had very little effect on the shell. He twisted harder.
"That's not working." Pink was upsetting the others.
"I should be able to punch a hole in it so he can breathe. Then I'll worry about getting him out," said Aaron. "If I'm not careful I'm going to run him through."
Aaron put the egg on the stove and chipped away at the shell. Finally, a small hole appeared. He heard more scratching from inside.
"He can breathe now," he said. "Now let's get him out." He picked up the axe.
"No!" This time it was White. The others crowded around, watching in horror as Aaron grabbed the axe by the blade. Even Black looked on, eyes wide.
"I'm not going to chop him in half," Aaron said. "Take it easy, guys. I'll get him out in one piece." He held it by the blade, using it as a wedge to pry the shell open. It took several minutes of chipping and prying, and the egg suddenly split open.
Duane caught the little blue and gray dragon just before he hit the floor. He carried him over to the window to get a better look at him by moonlight. Blue had called him the sky dragon. His colors would make him almost invisible in the sky.
"Put him in the sink until he gets on his feet," said Aaron. They watched as he wriggled his streamlined body upright. He had long tapered wings, slender limbs, and a long flat tail.
"He looks like he'll be a good swimmer too," said Duane.
Aaron agreed. This dragon's body looked built to be a strong swimmer and diver as well as a good flier. He was bigger than the others had been when they hatched. While the water dragon was a deep blue, this one was pale.
"We'll call this one Sky," said Aaron. He opened the window, hoping for some insects for him. Sure enough, within a few minutes they had flies. Aaron fed him and the others crowded around to meet him.
Duane picked up the large half inch shell and examined it. "How was he supposed to hatch out of that?"
"Sometimes egg layers have to bite them open," said White. She didn't volunteer any more information.
The hatchling climbed out of the sink and stretched his wings, and since he seemed to have plenty of company, Aaron shut the window and went back to sleep.
Aaron woke about two hours before dawn, with Mountain and Yellow next to him. He saw Purple and Brown beside Duane. He got up, re-stacked the firewood that had been the cave, and removed the straw from the sink and tossed it out into the bush. Purple and Brown woke, and he sent them out to their new cave.
The noise woke Duane, and together they cleaned up all signs of the dragons. Aaron opened the window and Red and Green flew out into the pre-dawn morning. He picked up the two remaining eggs and hid them in some thick brush. He'd ask the other dragons to keep an eye on them.
Just before dawn Green landed on the window ledge chirping.
"Someone's here," said Pink.
"Out!" Aaron ordered. Pink flew out the window, followed by White, who didn't exactly fly. Aaron heard hoofbeats outside. He grabbed Duane and almost threw him out the window, and tossed the remaining dragons out to him. Aaron heard voices. Someone was at the door. Duane and the dragons ran for the trees, but Aaron was trapped. He knew he wouldn't get out the window in time, so he closed it.