“Father, don’t forget about the meat for mother,” Daelyn reminded him, “She’s probably famished.”
Nodding, Baylor flapped his leathery wings, running a few steps to get air born. Saphira would indeed be hungry, but after seeing the bundle they were bringing home, she’d probably be more than hungry, he thought. He wondered if she would be angry or if her motherly instincts would surpass her anger. He hoped the latter, his heart already taken by the fearless tiny human. He dreaded telling the elders for he knew they would object to having a human among them. But the worst news was the location of the Atranoch. They were up to something to be so close.
Following his father in flight, Daelyn was unaccustomed to the extra weight, even as tiny as a baby. He was positive it would start crying once air born, but it stayed true to its sunny nature despite its unfortunate start in life. Daelyn wondered if it were a male or a female. The whole flight home the infant stared in wonder the flying dragon, reaching up with a tiny hand to touch the glimmering scales on Daelyn’s neck, cooing and babbling humans sounds. He thought the sounds the baby made were strangely appealing, making him feel happy inside. He wondered what human babies ate, guessing they weren’t much different from any other mammal when they’re born. Mother’s milk. Nearing the caves, Daelyn and Baylor stopped flapping and put their wings out like umbrellas, catching the wind underneath and slowly floating down onto the stony, flat surface of the cave’s entrance. Baylor gestured for his son to stay put so he could prepare Saphira about the baby. Oddly nervous, wondering why he cared if she denied the child entrance or not, he took a deep a breath and went inside.
’Baylor! You’re back!” she exclaimed at his entrance. Right away she knew something was wrong and assumed something happened to Daelyn. “Baylor, what’s wrong? Where’s Daelyn? If he’s hurt or dead, I’ll never forgive you.”
“Of course he’s not hurt!” Baylor said irritably, “I certainly know to keep our son out of harms way! First, the bad news. The Atranoch are hiding out in the caves of the Sargonian Sea.”
Baylor saw his mate’s eyes widen slightly, then narrow with hatred.
“Why are they back, Baylor? Why now?” she asked, “We banished them!”
Daelyn, standing just outside of the main chamber, stepped inside with the bundle around his neck. Saphira walked up to her son, nuzzling his face with hers. Baylor and Daelyn both watched her leap aside in shock when the infant made a soft cooing sound.
“What in the world?” she looked towards her mate, “Baylor?”
“The Chimarian village was destroyed, Saphira,” he explained, “All of its peoples dead, except for this one child. How could I, in all good conscious, leave it to die in the elements or get eaten alive by scavengers?”
Eyes wide, she nodded, taking the bundle of squirming baby from around her son’s neck and placing it on the floor of the cave. The three of them stood around it, staring with wonder at the small face peering up at them. Saphira, having never before seen a human baby this close, wondered the same thing her mate and son did; how did humans ever survive? She looked at the tiny, pink talon-less fingers and the rose-bud mouth without a single tooth and she wondered how this fragile creature could live and grow to an adult. Gently, she pulled the fabric down from its body, exhaling gently so as not to scare it. Smaller than a wolf pup, the baby’s reddish hair sat in small, soft curls around its tiny head. Its eyes were the color of stormy seas staring up her without fear. Turning the baby over, she noticed how it barely had the strength to lift its own head. She turned it back over, startled when the baby smiled and cooed at her. Immediately she felt a familiar tingling in her breast, something she hadn’t felt since Daelyn was born. Looking at Daelyn and Baylor, she saw their shocked faces and smiled a dragon’s toothy smile.
“I think she’s hungry,” she announced, though she didn’t need to. As the cool air touched the baby’s impossibly soft skin, she opened her mouth and let out a wail, startling the three of them. Kicking and waving her little clenched fists in protest, her face grew red as she screamed.
“What’s wrong with it, mother?” Daelon asked, alarmed, “is it sick?”
“No, and ‘its’ a female,” Saphira told him, “most likely she’s cold and hungry. Where did you find her?”
“I heard a sound and went to check it out,” he told her, ” and found her laying under her dead mother.”
“Oh! The poor thing!” Saphira gasped, “What a way to begin life!”
“Now the big question,” Baylor said, “is what do we do with her?”
The three dragons stood around the crying human baby beside themselves with questions. It was unheard of for a dragon to have anything to do with humans except to try and stay out of their sight. They were fearful, superstitious creatures that shot useless arrows that bounced off of the dragon’s thick scales. Unfortunately there were some rebellious juveniles that taunted and sometimes killed the humans, but they were swiftly and justly punished for their deeds. Such merciless killing of any creature, unless it was for food, was strictly forbidden by dragon laws. Several decades ago, after the Great War between humans and the Dark Elves of Grendle Kill, dragons intervened on the behalf of the humans, costing them the life of their eldest sons.
Poisoning the tips of their spears and arrows, the Dark Elves aimed for the dragon’s eyes, felling them with a single arrow. The humans, outraged at such unfair tactics, slaughtered the Dark Elves as they slept. In retaliation, the remaining elves called upon the Atranochs in the land of Darkmoon, casting a spell on them to kill on their behalf. It was then the dragons stepped in and stopped the senseless slaughter of humans, at the cost of Atechi’s son’s life. Once the Atranochs were subdued, the dragons of banished them to the Lost Caves in the outer sanctum of Kilacomb. A desolate, remote area, the Atranochs thrived there for decades, until now.
“Saphira, I need to know what to tell the Elders,” Baylor told her, “a human child will be difficult to hide.”
“Well, we obviously can’t abandon her,” Saphira said, “She’ll die.”
Saphira wondered why that was important that the child not die. It was just a human child, no worth to them at all. But as the sound of the infant’s crying filled the cave, she felt a fierce conviction to protect the human baby. Dragons have always been mesmerized by the human voice. Especially a female voice in song. There was something so calming, so soothing about the sound. It was hypnotizing. As they stood listening to the infant’s cry, another sound reached their ears. The bell-like sounds of the crystals being struck. They weren’t the only ones listening.
“Baylor, tell the elders what you’ve found,” Saphire instructed, “and tell them I’ve decided to foster her until other arrangements are made.”
“I don’t think they’ll be in agreement with you, my dear,” Baylor warned,
“Then I will go with you and persuade them,” she said determinedly.
To Daelyn, she added, “bring the infant, but stay out of sight until I call you.”
Daelyn sulked, grumbling under his breath. He didn’t want to pick up the crying human again, but when he did, the crying stopped instantly. Looking down, he was met by the gaze of the infant’s sparkling green eyes and a smile as wide as the sea itself. Saphira immediately noticed the difference and looked at her son with surprise.
“Well, it looks like you’ve charmed her,” she teased, “I always knew you’d have a way with the ladies, just like your father.”
Baylor and Saphira entered the lower chamber where the elders were waiting patiently. A small fire was burning in the fire pit as was common during their gatherings. The light shimmering off the crystals made the cave dance with fiery rainbows and shadows, giving the cave a mystical ambiance. Bowing low, Saphira greeted them.
“Father, Uncle, Aunt, I trust your slumber was good?” she asked, head bowed low.
“Not as good as we’d hoped, daughter,′ Astor answered, “We heard strange sounds in your living space and would like an explanation as to why it sounds strangely human?”
“That’s because it is a human child, father,” Saphira confirmed, “When Daelyn and Baylor went to investigate the Chimarian ruins, an infant was the only survivor.”
“And it is here. Why?” Xyandran demanded, “Do we not have rules about remaining invisible to humans?”
“Yes, Aunt, and it’s for this reason I am here with Baylor,” Saphira explained, “I feel a strange bond with the child. Her strength and fearless nature is unusual for a human yet, she is quite helpless. Baylor felt unease leaving it to die under her own mother.”
“What do you know of human nature, Saphira, that you would know this one?” Atechi asked, stepping forward.
“I don’t presume to know human nature, Uncle,” she protested, “I only know what I can see before me. The fact that a living creature was still alive in the face of such misfortune could mean she is destined for something greater.”
“What did you find at the village, Baylor?” Astor asked, “What did you find out?”
“The Atranochs have taken residence in the caves of the Sargonian Sea,” Baylor answered, “My guess is they’ve grown in numbers, as well.”
Baylor recounted the creature’s footprints that told the tale in the bloody soil. The unpretentious bodies of innocents lying broken and burned while they slept.
Xyandran roared in anger causing the crystals to hum in a low tone at the sound. How dare they return to her beloved land! The small, bony horns that ran in three rows down her back stood up tall and sharp. Puffing her smaller body up, fangs bared, she looked dangerous.
“Who gave them permission to leave Darkmoon?” she growled, “We must confront them at once!”
“Now, Xyandran,” Astor crooned, “First things first. We need to find out why they left Darkmoon and what brings them to this area. Let’s remain calm until we get all the details. ”
She nodded in acquiescence, stepping back, but her horns still stood at attention. Her hatred of them never failed to spark a reaction. They listened as Baylor told of the carnage and wanton slaughter of sleeping Chimerians, right up to the point where Daelyn discovered the infant.
“I would see this human child now, Baylor,” Astor commanded.
“Daelyn? Bring out the baby,” Baylor called to his son.
Daelyn stepped out from around the corner carrying the swaddled baby, placing it on the floor of the chamber in front of the elders. She was quiet as she looked up at the large faces staring down at her, reaching up with her tiny pink hands curiously. Shapira was correct in the fact that the infant was fearless, Xyandran thought. More than one adult human had run screaming in terror at the sight of a dragon. She could see the child was studying her closely, its eyes taking in the beauty of Xyandran’s opalescent scales as they shimmered and danced by the light of the fire. Eyes glittering like the purest of emeralds, were wide open with wonder, her mouth a perfect rosebud. Xyandran marveled at the child’s fiery, auburn curls and touched her muzzle to them as softly as a butterflie's kiss. Breathing in, she was pleasantly surprised at the delightful odor of the child. Sweet as honey, fragrant as chamomile. The infant giggled, grabbing a horn with a firm grip. Raising herself slightly, she tried to suckle on the horn, her lips smacking when her tongue touched it. Xyandran gently eased herself away, trying to hide her soft expression from the others. She understood now the attraction her niece had to the child. She was enchanting.
Astor watched the exchange between the human infant and the others and observed how soft the dragon’s eyes looked. It was as if the child had bewitched them. Nodding at Atechi, they both stepped up to investigate the human child’s affect on the others. Her eyes widened at the sight of them, but not in fear, Astor noticed. As green and clear as Peridot gems, they peered up at the dragons with unwavering fascination. Reaching up, the baby touched both of their faces softly, like the touch of a living feather.
Astor cleared the tightening in his throat, convinced the infant had bewitching powers, but also felt a surge of protectiveness. It made him wonder if the charm of a tiny defenseless infant was a part of a human child’s survival.
“Well, it certainly can’t be left to die out in the elements,” Astor said gruffly, “In the meantime, we’ll keep her secluded for safety purposes.”
Tearing himself away from the child, he wondered what they would feed a human child.
“Concerning the Atranochs,” he continued, “I think we need to find out exactly how many we’re dealing with. If need be, we’ll entreat our cousins, the fire dragons to help. I know that two of their females have birthed recently, too, Saphira. You might want to enlist the help of one of them to as far as feeding the human child. If I heard correctly, one of their hatchlings died. Just tell the mother that your son is in need of milk because he is sickly, she may be willing to help.”
Saphira nodded gratefully, picked up the infant who smiled at the familiar dragon. Xyandran motioned to Saphira to bring the child to her one more time.
“I’m intrigued by this human child,” she confessed, “I’d like to be kept updated on her, and if you would, Saphira, bring her to visit me.”
“Of course, Aunt!” Saphira assured the elder. “I must confess, I wasn’t very happy to see what the boys brought home, but I myself was oddly attracted to the child. She has a way about her, don't you agree?”
“Saphira, I just want to warn you,” the older dragon said, “There will be others that won’t be as welcoming as the Shadow dragon clan. I just hope you’re aware.”
Frowning, Saphire looked down at the smiling child in her care. “What is it about her that is threatening, Aunt? She is but an child. A fragile one at that.”
“Dragons live by the law, child,” Xyandran explained, “it’s how we’ve survived for so long. You’d do best not to mention her to anyone just yet.”
Saphira nodded and turned away to leave, wondering if she was doing the right thing.
“Saphira!” Xyandran called out, “Does she have a name?”
“Yes,” she answered, “Her name is Starlyn.”