“Thank you, friend,” Maya said, patting his long neck.
“Yes, thank you, Tricon,” Chantal added. She was nervous still. It showed in the uncertain curve of her smile, the way she wrung her hands, and she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “It was very exciting.” Chantal nodded, nerves adding sharpness to the movement causing the tendrils that came loose in flight to bounce around her shoulders.
“You are both welcome.” Tricon grinned, showing friendliness without exposing the rows of sharp teeth, and Maya was thankful for the consideration. She grew accustomed to Yekaran smiles long ago, but they seemed to unnerve Chantal. Maya understood. All those teeth, sharp as swords and almost as long, bared in such big mouths made it easy to forget the weren't the creatures from ancient Earth legend.
“If you’ll excuse me,” he continued. “I have much to attend to this evening.”
“Good evening, then friend.”
Tricon nodded and left them.
“Well,” Maya said, turning her attention to Chantal. “Let’s introduce you to the infants.”
“The infant Yekarans in the dragonry.” Maya led Chantal toward a plain door grayed with age. “Most of them went home with their parents the day they hatched.”
“What about the rest?”
“Their parents never came out of hibernation.”
Chantal’s expression softened and filled with sympathy. Maya knew the reaction well. There was nothing more effective in turning the hearts of those intimidated by adult Yekarans than the plight of those orphaned by the winter fevers and hibernation failure.
“Is this for my pairing with a Yekaran companion?”
Maya nodded and held the door open, allowing Chantal to enter first. “We’ll see if you can find a companion among the four here. There are others we can call if you don’t find a match today.”
She led Chantal through the narrow hallway. Maya loved visiting the dragonry, but she’d never enjoyed the decent through the Terran entrance. The press of walls so close unnerved her.
At the end of the long sloping hall, an old, worn door opened into a massive dome. The hall was an impressive sight just after the mass laying, filled wall to wall with glistening eggs. Today was underwhelming by comparison. The room was empty except for four hatchlings and the maids assigned to tend them until adoptions were finalized.
The size and growth of infant Yekarans never ceased to amaze Maya. First hatched, their heads reached halfway between a human’s knee and hip. These four were a week old, and one was nuzzling his nursemaid’s elbow, trying to hide behind her arm.
“They’re so small.”
Maya turned to Chantal. “Compared to the adults, yes they are, but they’re still plenty big from a child’s perspective, I can assure you.”
“You were four when you met Tricon, weren’t you?”
Maya nodded. “And I’m short now. Imagine how I felt then. He was only two days old and as tall as I was.”
“What do I do?” Chantal asked.
“Go to them, and see if you make a friend.”
“But I’ve never made a friend before.”
“You’ll know if one of them takes to you,” Maya answered.
Chantal hesitated, but after a moment, she set her jaw and walked toward the tiny dragons. Maya felt an ache deep in her chest for the girl. How sad to grow so near womanhood and have never had a friend. She hoped it would happen for her today.
A reddish male peeked out at her from under his nursemaid’s arm and then returned to hiding. A cream fellow and greenish brown female were too busy wrestling to notice Chantal, but a dark green female waddled to meet her halfway. As they reached each other, the Yekaran sniffed at the hem of Chantal’s skirt.
“Hello,” said Chantal.
The Yekaran cocked her head to the side, considering Chantal with amber eyes. She blinked and reared up to sit on her haunches. The dragon trilled and regarded Chantal again, eye to eye, before issuing a questioning squeak.
“I’m Chantal,” she answered. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
The hatchling extended her muzzle. Chantal reached out and caressed the hatchling’s nose before tickling under her chin. Overexcited, the baby wobbled and only managed to keep from falling by flailing too large wings.
Maya walked out to the two of them just as Chantal was asking the nursemaid for the hatchling’s name.
“Her name is Roggsha,” the maid answered.
“Hello, Roggsha,” said Chantal. “Would you like to be my Yekaran companion?”
“That’s a question best left to her parents,” Maya said.
“I thought she was an orphan.”
“Yes, but we find homes for them. These four are just waiting for the adoptions to be finalized. You can ask her parents if they’re willing to allow her to be trained as a companion when they come to take her home.”
“So she won’t live here at the castle?”
“Not until she’s an adult,” Maya answered. “There’s no reason to rob her of her childhood, and you will have plenty of opportunities to visit her.”
The door opened, and a woman with gray beginning to streak through her hair crossed to Maya and Chantal. “There you are!” she said. “Lanre told me I’d probably find you down here.”
“Sorry, Selah,” Maya answered. “We’ve just returned from a picnic out at the bluff.”
Selah waved Maya’s apology away. “No matter, dear. I’ve been told to tell you the king is asking for you and to help the young countess get settled in.”
“I see,” Maya answered and turned to Chantal. “This is Selah, Chantal. She practically raised me. If you’ll go with her, she’ll help you get settled. I have some business to attend before dinner.”
Chantal nodded and greeted Selah as Maya turned to leave.
Continue to Chapter 5, Part 2.