The dragons are growing up. The kingdom is in trouble, and they have proven themselves useful. There are still some hungry people who wouldn't see them as allies and would rather eat them.
Dylan sat in the single chair. Aaron sat on a piece of firewood.
"Is she here?" Dylan asked.
"I don't know. She does seem to know what's going on, but I have to tell you, she's not the only help we had today."
"Yes, but there's more."
"I think you better start at the beginning," said Dylan.
Aaron did. He started with finding the eggs, meeting the witch, and each egg hatching into a fascinating little beast. Much to his surprise, he found the story difficult to embellish.
"I'd like to see them," Dylan managed to stammer when Aaron had finished his story.
"I'm sure they're curious about you too. Let's see if they'll come and meet you."
Aaron went out to find them. He thought he could simply call them, but they were not dogs, and he didn't want to give that impression.
He returned, followed by Duane, who was carrying Black, and the dragons, with the exception of Purple and Brown. The look of disbelief on Dylan's face made Aaron want to laugh, but he forced it down, not wanting to upset the dragons.
Mountain went to Dylan and put his front legs on his knee, reaching his tongue toward his face.
Dylan stiffened and backed away.
Seeing Dylan's reaction, Aaron sat on the log next to them and reached over to scratch Mountain's head. Sky climbed onto his shoulder and stared intently at Dylan, who sat unmoving. The others took up whatever perches they could find, and sat staring at the stranger, unsure what to do.
Dylan's eyes fell on the Dragoyles, and Aaron thought he was about to fall out of the chair. He sat, gaping at the odd little faces, then at the rest of the colorful assortment.
"They're friendly, especially this one." Aaron gave Mountain's head another rub.
"There are more?" Dylan found his voice.
"There are three more. One's the water dragon. The other two don't come out in the daytime. If you're still around tonight, you can meet them," said Aaron.
"They can understand us?"
"We understand you perfectly." Pink strutted over in front of him, giving him her most intimidating look.
Dylan was too shocked to laugh. "You are what dropped rocks and fire out of the sky today? I thought you'd be a lot bigger."
"Yes." Pink glared at him. "We're big enough."
As if to punctuate her words, Black blew an impressive flame in his direction, followed by an acrid plume of smoke. Not to be outdone, Red blasted a piece of firewood with flame, setting it alight. Aaron quickly grabbed it and threw it in the stove. He knew he needed to break the tension.
"Pink, I know we haven't had guests before, but this is not the way we introduce ourselves. Pink, this is Dylan. Dylan, meet Pink."
"Pleased to meet you, Pink." Dylan smiled.
"Duane, meet Dylan. "Perhaps our guest would like some tea."
It became a game. The dragons all wanted to be introduced. The tension was broken.
"The lady who owns this place says they all have names," said Aaron, "but she thinks telling them would give us some kind of power over them. Right now, we're calling them by their colors."
"I've heard that before", said Dylan. "A slip of the tongue to a wizard, and he can put spells on you. Never believed it before today, I'm now I'm not so sure."
"Believe it," said Pink.
"It's the truth," White confirmed.
Dylan wasn't sure, but he was a brilliant strategist, and knew when to keep his mouth shut. He wasn't about to argue with a potential ally over something that made no difference to him.
Duane poured the tea and stirred the stew.
"The potatoes are a little hard," he said. "I was a bit busy this morning."
"I hear you were," said Dylan. "How did that come about? Did Aaron put you up to it?"
"No. Aaron told me to stay here with the dragons. It was the woman. She said you didn't have a chance. She said you'd all be killed, and then they'd be coming here to set the place on fire. She said hiding was not going to keep us safe."
"So you took all these little dragons and threw burning sticks at the enemy?"
"Not all of them. Just the ones that can fly, and Black, because he can flame. She made a spell so nobody could see us. She called it a glamour. We could appear as anything, or blend in with everything."
"And where is this very wise lady?" Dylan asked. "May I meet her?"
"Not tonight, I think. Making that spell was very hard for her. She's tired. If you have a message for her, you can tell Pink. Pink talks to her all the time."
"I want to thank her for her help this morning, and I would very much like to meet her."
"I will tell her," said Pink.
Dylan looked over at the stew. "Is this how you feed the dragons?"
"No," said Duane. "We give them a few bites, but mostly we let them catch their own food. Usually we eat outside. It's not a good idea to keep them all indoors for too long."
"Then that is what we should do." Dylan had quickly regained his composure, after being somewhat floored.
They sat outside watching the dragons while the stew boiled. Dylan found himself amused by their antics.
"I don't see the little green one," he said.
"He's our lookout. He's very good at letting us know if someone is coming. He doesn't need a spell to disappear. He just sits up in a tree and blends right in. Unless he moves, you won't see him."
They watched as Black stretched his wings and attempted a few stiff flaps. He'd dug up most of the anthills and was looking for another source of food. Mountain was running out of logs to turn for him. The others still fed him, but he was growing restless.
Duane poured tea. They sat, watching Yellow follow Mountain, as he usually did. Mountain was heavy, and flying was difficult. Still, since his maiden flight the day before, he was determined. He used his strong claws to climb up into a tree, then launched himself off. Yellow followed him into the tree, and sat looking down at the ground.
Mountain gave him a whistle of encouragement, and he took a flying leap, half flying and half falling to the ground. Mountain wouldn't let him give up, and nudged him back up the tree. He selected a spot in a nearby tree, and aimed for it, whistling for Yellow to follow him. Yellow leapt into the air, wings flapping hard, and ended up latched onto the trunk with his claws.
"He almost made it that time," said Dylan.
Black looked on, and Aaron thought he looked dejected.
"Don't worry, little guy," said Aaron. "You'll be up there with them soon."
Black slowly stretched his wings and tried flapping them. Finding it too painful, he blew a stream of flame and smoke into the air in frustration.
"Whatever that horse of yours busted, it wasn't his fire maker," said Dylan.
"I suspect it's some broken ribs," said Aaron. "It's going to take some time. He's doing pretty good. A few days ago he couldn't move at all."
"Some food usually cheers him up," said Duane. "I'll go and check on that stew."
"Any idea who the kid is?" asked Dylan.
"No. He's not saying much. The woman thinks he's okay, and so do I."
"There's a reward offered for a kid," said Dylan. "I think you may have him."
"What did he do?"
"I doubt he did much. The idea is that if they can get the kid, they can make his folks talk."
"I think we'll keep that to ourselves," said Aaron. "He'd want to help them, and he'd most likely end up getting himself killed. What did they do?"
"There are rumors, but the only thing we know for sure is they fed their own family instead of the king's. Better keep him out of sight. I doubt you'd be tempted by the reward even if we could collect it."
"I hear you," said Aaron. "Rewards don't apply to us; we're doing our jobs, but all it would take is a word to the wrong person. Some of the men might be tempted to split it."
"As for your other charges, keep them here. I'll have to convince the king you found a way to make the witch help you. I'm afraid we have a king foolish enough to serve up some pretty good little allies on a platter. This is not the time for anyone to know about them."
Duane came out with bowls of stew, and threw a piece of deer meat to Black. He wondered why Dylan didn't ask where it had come from.
They sat watching Mountain and Yellow work on their flying. Aaron threw a tough piece of meat to the Dragoyles and the men laughed as they fought over it, sharp teeth tearing it to shreds.
They had just finished eating when Green flew down from his perch chirping loudly before he disappeared. Duane and the other dragons disappeared into the woods.
"Someone's coming," said Aaron. He quickly hid the stew bowls.
Moments later, Gareth galloped into the clearing.
"The king is sick. There are rumors he's dying. He wants you," he told Dylan. "Things are bad. People are hungry, they're angry, and they're blaming him."
"Stay here and do what I told you," Dylan said as he threw the saddle on his horse. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
Aaron was happy to do as Dylan asked.