Every dragon in the huge cavern raised their head, staring in the direction of the Great Door.
“Who is insane enough to be traveling in this weather?” Tempura said, dropping the harness she was mending.
No one answered her. All of the dragon chatter around her had ended abruptly. She knew the dragons had excellent hearing and had heard something. All of them had heard it.
“The wind is close to one hundred miles an hour, and the temperature is hovering at minus forty,” she said, repeating the weather report she had heard earlier.
Rider one, said a couple of dragons in dragonspeak at the same time.
Tempura knew this meant a single dragon and its rider had landed in the courtyard.
“Insane,” she said.
She rose and instantly broken into a jog. A dragon out in this cold needed to get in fast. She jogged up the ramp toward the Great Door.
“Damn rider. How dare you take your dragon out in this weather? I’m hurrying for the sake of the dragon, not you.”
She reached the double inner door first. Before she opened the door, she grabbed a thick fur coat from the racks.
“It’s insane just to open the Great Door without a coat.”
She pulled on the coat, then pulled out a fur hat from a pocket and pulled it down over her head. Wisps of her brown hair had escaped her pony tail. She drew a finger across her forehead to move the hairs out of her eyes.
As fast as she could, she pushed open the inner door and slipped through. The quicker she was, the less heat was lost and the fewer cold drafts allowed in.
“Damn, its cold.”
She hastily buttoned the coat while she hurried up the ramp. It curved around, almost doubling back on itself. Her fingers were already going numb with cold when she put on her gloves.
“I bet it’s as cold between the two doors as it is outside.”
She could feel the cold pass through her light tan pants. They would hardly protect her from the cold unless she kept moving. She was glad she always wore her fur-lined boots.
Tempura reached the lever that controlled the door mechanism. She reached up and pulled down hard. The wheels turned, pulling open the two halves of the Great Door. In an instant, she saw a huff of dragon breath swirled in through the opening. A dragon nose already pushed in at the doors, helping the pulleys from working so hard. The doors were heavy, consisting of double wood slabs that were two feet thick. The doors were constructed not to keep a dragon in, but to keep out the bitter cold of winter.
“Get in here quick,” Tempura said, although she needn’t have.
The rider was pulled through the door by his dragon who was in an obvious hurry to get inside.
“Tail,” she said, barely able to breath with the cold.
Her voice seemed lost in the wind.
The dragon’s tail rapidly cleared the threshold, and she pushed up the lever to close the doors. The rush of wind subsided, however, the air was still frigid. No one moved until the doors were firmly closed.
“This way,” Tempura said, leading the way toward the inner doors.
She walked fast, just as eager to reach the warmth as she knew the dragon would be.
“Warmer down below.”
She swung open both inner doors to allow the dragon to pass. However, the dragon and his rider had only came so far down the ramp. She thought the dragon looked a little too timid.
“Warmer down below,” she said again, wondering why the rider just stood there, holding the rope attached to his dragon.
“I need my dragon tended to,” the man said, still encased in his heavy flying coat.
His hat and scarf covered his face. He took a few steps toward her.
“Yes, I know. Send him on down,” Tempura said with an impatient wave of her hand.
“I want to make sure he gets chained,” the man said.
Tempura glared, feeling anger well up in her.
“We don’t chain dragons here. You think a dragon’s going to want to escape out there?”
She pointed toward the Great Door.
The rider’s eyes followed her gesture, but he didn’t move any further down the ramp.
Was the man crazy?
Tempura stomped over to him and grabbed his rope away. She thought the rope was a joke. Did the man really think he could control his dragon with a rope? This dragon could haul him around with ease.
“Go on down,” she said to the dragon, tossing the loose end of the rope.
It snagged on the dragon’s harness. The dragon flinched at the touch of the rope. Tempura could see the conflict in his eyes. He was eyeing his rider and then her, looking very unsure what to do. She knew she would win the battle. The dragon looked to her for encouragement. She waved her hand, urging him to go. That was all he needed, and he moved down into the cavern.
Tempura turned her gaze to the man and impatiently waved for him to go. She almost stuck him when she did so. Finally, the man moved, passing through the doors, allowing her to close them, although the doors just missed him since he wasn’t moving as fast as she calculated. She almost wished she had. Besides, the other dragons weren’t going to be pleased with so much cold air sweeping down from the doors or the loss of heat. However, she heard no complaints. The other dragons were unusually silent. She felt some concern. Silence meant something was wrong.
“If you want a warming bath, keep on going toward your left. Jak is there, and he’ll take off your harness,” Tempura said, removing her coat.
She turned her back on the man while she hung up the coat on the rack by the doors. The gloves were stuffed into one pocket while the hat was stuffed in another, so all she had to do next time was grab the coat. That was the easiest and most efficient way of doing it which guaranteed you had everything one needed to stay warm. She frowned. It was annoying that she was the only one who did this. She always found herself double checking. The cold weather was too severe to be without them.
“A bath?” the rider said.
Tempura couldn’t see his features since he had yet to remove his face covering, but his voice had a tone of puzzlement.
“I was talking to the dragon. You can keep going straight. You’ll find the door to the Great Room. Just go up the steps and ask for who you are here for,” Tempura said, dismissing him and following the dragon.
The dragon had taken her guidance and was heading toward the bath. His feathers, which had been frosted white, were now showing the blues and greens of a juvenile. She figured he was probably five to seven years old. He was old enough for a rider, but inexperienced about traveling in this type of weather. The dragon should have refused his rider.
The dragon paused and rumbled his name.
At least the dragon knew his manners and knew to announce himself to the most senior dragon. The senior dragon was Nona. She acknowledged him by saying his name back to him.
Both dragons were using a normal voice. Because no other dragon was talking, Tempura felt the vibration of their voices echo in the cavern. She glanced back at the man, but saw no response. She knew the man couldn’t hear his dragon, but she should have guessed this by how he thought he could control his dragon by holding onto a rope.
Ferrari bowed his head toward Nona, then continued on.
“Ferrari,” Tempura said in response to Nona’s rumble.
“Yes, his name is Ferrari,” the man said.
Tempura felt annoyed. The man wasn’t going to the Great Room like he should, but instead was following her.
“How did you know?” he said.
She spun around, stopping to face him.
“He announced himself to Nona. All dragons are required to announce themselves to the matriarch.”
Tempura knew he wouldn’t believe her. That was the biggest problem with most people. They couldn’t hear the dragons.
The man finally removed his face covering. He was a massive man with a thick black beard. While he shoved his face covering into his coat pocket, another dragon rumbled to Nona. Tempura smirked to herself, expecting a reaction from the man and she got it. He did exactly what she thought he would do.
“But…hey that dragon’s loose.”
He stepped back with his arms raised as if he was under attack when a striking black and gold feathered dragon stepped over his pen wall. The man looked frantically around as if looking for a place to hide. The dragon passed him with hardly a glance. Tempura almost laughed.
“He’s going to the bathroom. Their pens are for resting. They go out there to poop. They eat over there. I don’t need poop-scoopers like you do,” she said, waving her hands toward the appropriate areas.
“H-how do you know he’s going to the bathroom?” he said, eyeing her like she was some crazy person telling him that the place was haunted by fairies.
“He asked Nona for permission,” Tempura said, with a roll of her eyes.
“Where’s my dragon?” the man said, looking around in a startled manner.
Tempura could tell he was getting too worked up, especially now that his dragon was no longer in sight.
“He went to the bath. This way if you need to see,” Tempura said with a sigh.
Showing him was the only way she knew he would settled down. She hated ignorant dragon riders who treated their dragons as if they weren’t alive or needed care. This man wasn’t concerned about the care of his dragon, only concerned that his dragon was contained.
Why couldn’t the man just go to the Great Room and let her tend to his dragon? As if the dragon needed help, anyway.
“Hey, Jak.” Tempura said, entering the bath area.
There was a huge pool in this cavern, fed with geothermal heated water. The pool was a warm hundred and one degrees and deep enough for two dragons to submerge themselves and even swim. Tempura enjoyed swimming laps here for exercise.
Jak, as average looking as she, was unhooking Ferrari’s harness. Ferrari stood absolutely still until he was free of his harness, then he slipped into the water with a huge rumbling sigh of pleasure. All the snow and frost were now melted off his feathers. Tempura thought Ferrari was somewhat larger than the typical adult male dragon and showing signs of maturity with his mannerisms. For never having been here before, he was being very observant and a quick learner on what he needed to do. She liked him. Too bad his rider was an idiot.
“Clean?” Jak said, holding up the harness and watching only her.
He was unable to focus on more than one person at a time and ignored the man as if he didn’t exist. More often than not, he ignored everyone except Tempura and the dragons.
“Yes, and put Ferrari in the pen beside Nona so no one picks on him.”
She spun around to face the man.
“Do you want him fed?”
“Fed? Doesn’t stabling include feeding?” the man said, looking as if he was in a shake down or a con to strip him of all his valuables.
The man confirmed her suspicions. He hadn’t a clue on how to take care of a dragon.
“We’ll feed him,” Tempura said, feeling a little sad for Ferrari.
Water splashed behind them.
“He’s enjoying himself. You can go now. He’s fine,” Tempura said, pushing the man out of the area.
“They don’t fight?” the man said, resisting her.
He was twice the size of her. She had only managed to get him to move back a couple of steps back into the main cavern.
“Nona doesn’t let anyone fight,” Tempura said.
The man moved a few more steps as if he was finally going to the Great Room, but then stopped abruptly. She ran into him, almost losing her breath.
“I’m not leaving my dragon to roam free.”
Tempura glared with exasperation while she stepped back away from him.
“Do you see any dragons fighting in the stable?”
She spread her arms to indicate the huge cavern. Only a couple of dragons were even visible since most of them had gone back to sleep once Ferrari had announced himself.
“I want to speak to the Dragon Master.”
His voice boom with authority, causing a couple of other dragons to wake and raise their heads.
“Speaking,” Tempura said in an off-handed manner.
“You. Ha ha. You’re hardly a snack to one of these dragons,” the man said, shoving his face inches from hers.
“I would watch your words and actions,” she said in a quiet voice, not even flinching.
“What can you do?” he said, sounding threatening.
“It’s not what I can do. It’s what Nona can do,” Tempura said with confidence.
Dragon-breath rippled through the man’s hair. He turned to find Nona’s nose inches from his face. Tempura smiled because of how soundlessly Nona had moved from her pen to position herself right behind him. His feet stumbled, unsure which direction he should go.
Nona had fluffed out her feathers and looked to take up the entire aisle that was wide enough for two dragons to pass. Her pink crest that flowed down her entire back to the tip of her tail seemed to glow with the intensity of her mood.
“I inherited Nona,” Tempura said. “She will die for me. She will kill for me. In fact, any dragon here will do the same. Once your Ferrari has tasted the care he will get here, he’ll be as loyal to me as the others.”
Nona huffed at him, adding some authority to Tempura’s words.
Of course, what she said wasn’t true, about a dragon killing for her. She figured if the man didn’t know how to care for a dragon, then he didn’t know their temperament either. Dragons were pretty mild mannered, especially the males. It was usually the females you had to worry about, if you had to worry at all. It was mostly perception. The females were bigger than the males. Nona was almost twice the size of the biggest male here and therefore looked a little intimidating.
“No one else lets their dragons roam free,” he said with a squeak to his voice, keeping an eye on Nona.
She almost had him backed up against a wall and kept huffing at him. Dragon breath tended to have a rotten meaty smell to it. He seemed to be holding his breath after every huff.
Tempura actually found the smell pleasant.
“Because they forgot. They have a large staff of people, too, don’t they? Have to scoop poop. Bring in food. Don’t they?”
“Yeah,” the man said, but his full attention was on Nona.
Ferrari stepped to the door, fluttering his feathers dry. A hint of black showed underneath his blue and green feathers. She recalculated his age to seven which was when a dragon usually molted into adult plumage.
“He’s close to molting. This isn’t a good time of year to be traveling up here with him. If he molts, you’re not going anywhere,” Tempura said.
Ferrari bowed his head to Nona who stepped aside to give him room. He squeezed past her. Tempura followed.
“Molt?” the man said.
She glanced back to see the man also following, but he kept looking back at Nona.
“Do you know anything about dragons?” Tempura said, stopping and turning toward him.
She wondered if he was getting dizzy trying to watch where he was going and trying to watch Nona. His head kept swiveling back and forth. Tempura took a step towards him, causing him to involuntarily take a step back. He almost backed up into Nona who was very close behind him.
“No, of course you don’t. Maybe you should learn.”
She turned away and caught up with Ferrari who had swerved toward the pig pens. Tempura knew he could smell them.
“Just one. Medium sized,” Tempura said to him, following to make sure he complied.
She knew a young dragon in a pig pen could get messy, especially if he decided to sample every pig in sight.
Pig one, Nona said, using an audible voice that Tempura knew would be heard by the man.
In fact, he looked terrified that a noise came from her and he bolted for the door.
“Thanks, Nona,” Tempura said, relieved that he was gone.
She kept her thoughts to herself about how she felt. He was an ignorant idiot.
Idiot, Nona said as if reading Tempura’s mind.
She ruffled her feathers while she stepped back into her pen, then she smoothed them down to settle with a sigh onto her bedding.
Tempura watched her, thinking Nona was the most beautiful dragon she had ever seen. Nona’s feathers seemed to be a kaleidoscope of reds, pinks, peach, and gold.
“Sounds like you’re being good in there,” she said to Ferrari.
None of the pigs were squealing which was a sure sign that he wasn’t sampling any of them. She stepped over to pick up the harness she had dropped earlier. It needed new stitching. She completed the last few stitches by the time Ferrari appeared. He was licking his lips and purring. Tempura was glad to see he hadn’t made a mess of himself, which would mean another bath. She tapped the pen where she wanted him.
He easily stepped over the five-foot divider, curling up in the thick bed of sand. After one yawn, his head lowered onto his front feet. He was asleep in moments. The few dragons that were awake, settled back down since there would be no chatting or socializing until Ferrari had his nap.
“It’s a tough journey to fly up here in this weather,” she said, looking at him over the divider.
“That idiot better have come up here for something important,” she said in a quiet voice.
Jak passed her. He kept his eyes to the ground. His lips were moving as if he was talking to himself. Tempura watched him hang Ferrari’s harness on the hook outside his pen. She knew he lived in his own little world in which only a few people were allowed in. Most people thought he was slow and stupid. They didn’t know how to handle being with him and didn’t care to learn.
He was her brother, and she watched over him with care.
She had been too young to fully understand when he was born, but she had been told their mother had a difficult delivery with him. The story she heard was that the mid-wife managed to literally blow life into Jak, but he had been breathless for too long, and the damage was done.
What Tempura did remember was that her mother had died. She pushed the sad thought from her mind by thinking of Jak. Sometimes he was surprising in simple ways.
Tempura knew how to interact with him. The dragons did too. Jak was good with the dragons, and they made sure no one messed with him. She remembered that his only chore used to be to throw food at the pigs. However, with a lot of practice, he learned how to mend and clean harnesses.
“It takes you a little longer to learn,” she muttered to herself. “But once you learn it, you never forget.”
Jak went through a routine he followed, making sure the harness hung just right.
“Perfect,”she said to him.
He nodded as if he knew, then left to go back to the pool area.
She knew he needed more routine then most. Just this year he was learning how to do the odd jobs of tidying up after a dragon bath or cleaning a harness when someone came at off hours, like today, with little to no supervision.
“That’s going to make my life a little easier.”
Not that she minded.
She straightened out the harness she was working on, then hung it outside the pen of the dragon it belonged to.
Ferrari sneezed. Blue and green feathers fluttered out of his pen.