“Thank you, friend,” Maya said, patting Tricon’s long neck.
“Yes, thank you, Tricon,” Chantal added. She wrung her hands shifted her weight from one foot to the other. If Father saw her behaving like this she’d have gotten an earful from him about weak body language, but she didn’t know what to do with herself. Tricon was so much bigger than she was; he could crush her with a careless gesture if he wanted to, and she apparently gave him and Maya a whole heap of bad news. Who were those women and the Yekaran? What had Father done now? “It was very exciting.” Chantal nodded, nerves adding sharpness to the movement causing the tendrils of hair that had come loose during the flight to bounce around her shoulders.
“You are both welcome.” Tricon gave her what she supposed was the Yekaran version of a grin. The stretching of almost nonexistent lips over dagger like teeth looked awkward, but she was thankful for his kindness.
Chantal looked between Tricon and Maya. He looked incredibly tired, like his body was suddenly too heavy to move, and Maya was blinking rapidly. Was she trying to keep from crying?
“Oh Daddy, what did you do?” she thought.
“If you’ll excuse me,” said Tricon, “there’s much to do for Borcon’s sake.”
“Their names are so similar,” Chantal thought.
“Good evening, then friend.”
Tricon nodded and left them.
Maya cleared her throat and turned her attention to Chantal. “Let’s introduce you to the infants.”
“The infant Yekarans in the dragonry.” Maya pointed to 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.”
She’d read about hibernation failure in her studies of past scientists and their studies, but it was something she always assumed their ancestors had cured. There were advances, and then it was never mentioned again. Had they just given up? How horrible to think of babes born orphans!
“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.”
Maya led her through a narrow hallway she thought must be the Terran entrance to the dragonry. If they weren’t able to walk side by side, there was no way a Yekaran could fit through this passage. At the end of the long sloping hall, an old, worn door opened into a massive dome. 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 ceases to amaze me,” said Maya. “They spend just over five months nestled in their shells, kept warm and safe in the hatchery and tended by humans while their parents slept. First hatched, their heads reach halfway between a human’s knee and hip.” She gestured a height almost to her hip, but what would likely be mid-thigh on a woman of average size. “These four dragonlings were a week old, having hatched a few days after the adults roused from hibernation.”
One of the nursemaids noticed them and waved as the dragonling she tended nuzzled her elbow, trying to hide behind her. Maya and Chantal returned the greeting.
“They’re so small!” said Chantal.
“Compared to the adults, yes they are, but they’re still plenty big from a child’s perspective, I can assure you.”
Chantal imagined herself as a young child standing near the infant dragons and had to agree. “You were eight 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 more than half 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. How was she expected to tell if one of these creatures wanted to be saddled with her? They were just a few days old. Was it asking to much of them? Being a Yekaran Companion sounded like a vocation. How is a baby supposed to decide what they wanted to do when they grow up before they can even speak? Yet, Maya said she and Tricon were paired when he was only two days old, and they looked content with one another. “Stop being a ninny,” she scolded herself, set her jaw, and stepped of the dais.
The reddish dragonling peeked out at her from under his nursemaid’s arm and then returned to hiding. A cream and greenish brown pair were too busy wrestling to notice her, but a dark green tyke waddled to meet her. As they reached each other, the Yekaran sniffed at the hem of her skirt.
“Hello,” said Chantal.
The Yekaran cocked her head to the side, considering Chantal with amber eyes. Chantal giggled. The dragonling looked so wise and confused at the same time, like it understood her utterly but couldn’t quite decide what she meant. It blinked and reared up to sit on its haunches, startling Chantal into taking a step back. 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 its blunt muzzle. Chantal wondered if rounded features and proportionally large eyes were a universal constant for babies as she reached out and caressed the hatchling’s nose before tickling under its chin. Overexcited, the baby wobbled and only managed to keep from falling by flailing too large wings.
Chantal blinked, instinctively trying to keep sand and errant wisps of hair kicked up by the flailing child from getting in her eyes. Reflex caused her to reach out to steady the dragonling, and she was only saved from sliced arms by one of the maids pulling her back.
“They have to steady themselves,” said the maid. “It’s hard not to try and help them when they stumble, but we are very easy to injure by comparison.”
“I wasn’t even thinking,” Chantal answered.
“That’s the beginnings of the bond, but you must be careful, especially while she’s so young.” The maid laid one hand on Chantal’s shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “She would have been heartbroken if she’d hurt you, and that kind of guilt can do horrible things to a Yekaran so young.”
“What do you mean?” Chantal’s heart was suddenly pounding in her ears. Had she already hurt this baby? “What kind of things?”
“Although they look fierce, Yekaran’s are very tender hearted and kind by nature,” the maid answered. She squeezed Chantal’s shoulder reassuringly. “However, trauma can cause them to harden or break, and its effects are more permanent for Yekarans than for us. They have less neural plasticity, even at this young an age.”
“You mean they don’t heal from emotional trauma?” A cold chill ran down Chantal’s spine. Tricon’s reactions and questions were starting to make horrifying sense.
“It depends upon the type and their reaction, but you’re right to an extent,” the maid agreed. “Grief and shock, they recover from eventually, but guilt.” She trailed off and shook her head sadly. “Guilt, especially at causing physical harm to others, even if it’s not truly their fault, is something they almost never get over.”
The dragonling trilled forlornly and nudged Chantal’s legs.
“Enough of such depressing things,” said the maid. “What’s your name, dear? I don’t think we’ve met before.”
The older woman turned to the dragonling and bent down to look its level. “You hear that, my dear?” she asked. “This young lady is Chantal, Roggsha.” She stood and addressed Chantal. “And this little clown, is Roggsha, Miss Chantal.”
“Hello, Roggsha.” Chantal knelt down and scratched the tiny Yekaran along the jaw. “Would you like to be my Yekaran companion?”
“That’s a question best left to her parents,” Maya said as she joined them.
“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.”
Chantal felt like her stomach dropped through the floor. “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. She frowned at the lady’s retreating form. Why did she suddenly feel like she’d been being babysat these past few hours?
“I suppose I have to leave now, Roggsha.” She sighed and gave the dragonling one last pat on the head as she stood. She looked to the older lady Maya had called Selah, who was giving her a kindly smile.
“Never you mind that girl, child,” said Selah. “She gets preoccupied whenever Lanre’s feathers are ruffled. She’ll be back to her usual self once she’s smoothed them.”
Continue to Chapter 5, Part 2.