Mr. Bennet is not overly impressed with Darcy as a Dragon Keeper, something about managing to lose a dragon egg has him bothered…
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Jane Austen’s Dragons, Book 1
Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon
Bennet slipped out of the parlor, signaling Darcy to follow. Bingley appeared entirely happy, engaged with a room full of lively Miss Bennets, so he would hardly notice Darcy’s absence. Best that way all told. If pressed, Darcy could easily claim he wanted to discuss land management with Mr. Bennet. While a bit of a stretch, it was hardly a lie.
“We shall not be disturbed here.” Bennet shut the study door behind them.
His shoulders were bowed and his back stooped. He shuffled more heavily than his age alone would have implied. No doubt his feet were as gnarled as his hands. Could he even make it out to see the estate dragon? It could not be often if he did. Who tended the dragon for him?
The study was small, but serviceable. Shelves filled with books—books of dragon lore, dragon histories, genealogies, and titles he could not make out—lined the wall behind the imposing desk and an adjacent wall. Exactly what he would expect from the repository of Blue Order’s wisdom. Windows and a generous fireplace took up the remaining walls. Four comfortable chairs clustered near the fireplace, a unique dragon perch between them.
The space was not tidy, but the wooden box stuffed with straw near the hanging sausage could hardly be random clutter. He edged toward the hearth until he could peer into the box.
“Fairy dragon eggs.” Bennet hastened across the room to stand protectively near the hatching box.
“Are you certain? I understand tatzelwurm eggs look very similar.” Darcy crouched and peered at the eggs, but did not touch them.
“They do, but tatzelwurms do not put their clutches twenty feet off the ground, do they? Nor do they make the sounds you will hear if you listen very closely.” Bennet hunkered down beside him and leaned close to the eggs.
Darcy did likewise, closing his eyes. Tiny, trills came from the eggs, so faint it would be easy to dismiss entirely. His head fell back in a deep yawn.
“Have you any doubts now?” Bennet crossed his arms and chuckled.
“None at all.” He rose and backed away from the eggs, shaking his head. There was a reason he did not prefer the company of fairy dragons. But still, to be able to attend an actual hatching, not merely read about it …
Bennet opened the window. A sharp, welcome breeze blew through. “That’s just the thing. Been hard to keep awake, standing watch over them.”
Darcy joined him near the window, gulping in the bracing air.
“I received instructions from the Order concerning the Keeper of the Lambton Wyrm.” Bennet wandered toward his desk and pulled a thick missive from the drawer. Fragments of blue sealing wax clung to the paper.
“My uncle is nothing if not efficient.” Darcy clasped his hands behind his back and approached the desk.
It would have been far better had Matlock not interfered. Far better.
“Your uncle is the Earl of Matlock?”
“And I am the Keeper of the Lambton Wyrm, though the previous estate dragon far preferred to be known as Pemberley.”
Bennet sat in a large wingback chair and gestured for Darcy to do the same.
“The Lambton Wyrm is a convenient fable, but hardly more true to fact than most dragon legends. Pemberley is a firedrake, not a wyrm.”
“So you are Keeper to a royal dragon.” Bennet tapped his fingertips before his chest. “That explains your bearing.”
“I do not know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
Bennet merely lifted an eyebrow.
Insulted it was.
Was Bennet rude, thick or irreverent? Few men addressed him with so much familiarity, especially once they knew his affiliation with Matlock and a firedrake.
“It bothers you? Most who deal with dragons have rather thick skins as it were.” Bennet folded his arms over his chest.
“You think I am no Dragon Keeper.”
“Have you a dragon in your keeping?”
“Do not play games with me, sir. If you have something to say, come out with it directly.” Darcy’s hands knotted into fists.
This was not the first time he had fought this issue. Uncle Matlock and his cadre had quite worn it out. But discussing it again with this self-important nobody was beyond the pale.
“I find it difficult to respect a man careless enough to have a dragon egg—an estate dragon’s egg and a firedrake no less—stolen from his own home. You must agree, it does not speak well of you, from any angle. And now, according to the head of the Order, I am to assist you in its recovery? Even if we do manage to find it—and for the sake of England and dragonkind, I pray we do—why should I see the egg back into your possession?”
A brutal, sharp cut, direct to the gut. But it was quick and clean. There was something to be said for that.
Not a great deal, but something.
“What you are carefully not saying, sir, is that you question my abilities as a Dragon Keeper and wonder if you should suggest to the new Pemberley, once hatched, that a new Dragon Keeper might be in order.”
“At least you have spent time in the company of dragonkind, enough to know some of their ways. That is some reassurance.” Bennet leaned back and his eyes narrowed.
Did he relish the thought of suggesting Pemberley make a meal of the last male of the Darcy line?
“The egg will be recovered, make no mistake in that. A wild firedrake—I cannot even conceive. It would send us back to the Dark Ages. It cannot be. But to send such a powerful creature back into the keeping of a man so careless, so—”
“Stop right there. You have no grounds to cast aspersions on my character.”
“I have every place to do so. Do you know the last time an egg was removed from its inherited territory?”
“As I recall, it was in 1705.”
Good, that startled the old man.
Darcy drew a deep steadying breath. It was time to put Bennet in his place. “How many eggs—major-dragon eggs are laid in a century—two perhaps? Never more than three—and that only happened once, in the century after the Pendragon treaty was forged. Of those seventeen major-dragon eggs since the treaty, how many have been removed from their keep? How many, sir? How many!!”
He really ought to have made a better study of his dragon history.
“Six, sir, there have been six. One in three eggs has been tampered with. Even the Longbourn keep has once been meddled with. In 1379, your ancestor was a drunk and gambled away the egg in a game of cards. When he regained his sense—”
Bennet’s face lost all color. “I know the story well enough, thank you.”
“Then do not be so quick to cast judgement.”
“What happened over four centuries ago is hardly my responsibility. It is not as though I could effect change to the past. But here and now, I can and I will. I must have satisfaction that dragonet Pemberley will have proper care.”
“You are in no place to make demands upon me. You have been charged by the Order to assist me in the recovery, not to sit in judgement over me.”
Uncle Matlock was already doing a sufficient job of that.
“An inquest should be held,” Bennet snarled.
“Take that up with the Earl.”
“As I recall, he is most conveniently your Uncle. Should you be found incompetent, his authority would be severely jeopardized. To keep his own position, he must protect yours.”
How little Bennet understood. Matlock had younger sons whom he would be happy to set up as Dragon Keeper and master of Pemberley in Darcy’s place.
Darcy slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. “How dare you!”
“Quite easily. It is precisely what you would do in my positon, with far less tact, I might add. It is what any Keeper loyal to dragonkind would do.”
A screeching blur dove through the window. Prickles coursed down Darcy’s spine. It landed on the perch, the force nearly toppling it.
Bennet reacted, but pulled back as Darcy grabbed it steady. At least Bennet had sense enough not to approach an unfamiliar cockatrice.
Walker flapped his wings as much for effect as to regain his balance. While he liked to make a grand entrance, usually he was far more regal about it.
Even in a rare moment of clumsiness, he was a spectacular specimen of his kind. Razor sharp beak and talons glinted in the sunlight with a vague metallic sheen. His head and shoulders resembled the falcon most people perceived him to be. Powerful wings extended as wide as Darcy’s arm span. Feathers and scales gleamed—perfectly oiled and preened. But his eyes and forked tongue were as reptilian as his body and tail.
Walker sidled across the perch to look Bennet square in the eye.
“The unmitigated presumption of you! You question Darcy as a Keeper? Look at me.” Walker stretched his wings and lifted his head. “Can you find fault with me? Would an inadequate Keeper have a companion such as me?”
Vanity was a cockatrice trait, but Walker took it to new heights.
“A companion dragon, even one such as yourself, is not the same as a major-dragon. Even you must agree.”
Interesting how Bennet’s tone turned far more respectful, even conciliatory, as he addressed the dragon.
Walker flipped his wings to his back and leaned so close to Bennet that his beak nearly touched his nose. “Then perhaps we should reflect on what kind of Keeper you are. Consider Longbourn—”
“He is quite well—”
“Longbourn is fat, lazy and sarcastic. He regularly fails to attend the Dragon conclave and all but refuses to perform his duties as presiding dragon of this parish. When he does deign to act, he is careless, forgetful and late. Over two years late in performing his last required census of the local wild and unattached dragons as I recall.”
Bennet’s jaw dropped.
Darcy rose and extended a hand toward Walker. “Perhaps an introduction is in order. Walker, may I present Dragon Keeper Bennet, of Longbourn.”
Bennet bristled but held his tongue, clearly feeling the intended insult. A companion dragon should to be presented to a Keeper, not the other way around.
Perhaps Darcy had spent too long among dragonkind. The use of such insults really ought to be below him.
Walker squawked an acknowledgement. “So, Bennet, how do you explain Longbourn’s dereliction of duties?”
“Those are his business. I do not manage his more than he does mine.”
“And you think yourself worthy of taking another Keeper to task when you are hardly worthy of the title yourself?”
A tiny blue streak zipped through the window, chittering and scolding so fast Darcy could barely make out her words. After flying two dizzying circuits around the room, she wove between Darcy, Bennet and Walker and nipped Darcy’s ear. He yelped and shooed her off, clutching his ear.
The blue fairy dragon hovered in front of his face. The color reminded him of something.
“What kind of Keeper do you think you are? You nearly permitted that dusty, feather-worn bird to eat me!”
Walker flapped his wings and snapped at her. Had he truly wished to, the little scold would have been a quick snack. The glint in his eye suggested he was amused, though, not annoyed.
The fairy dragon darted behind Bennet. “You see, you see!” she shrieked.
The door burst open and the woman in white on the path — Miss Elizabeth—stormed in.
No wonder the fairy dragon seemed familiar.
“April!” She sprinted toward her father, glowering at Walker all the way.
“No matter what she says, I do not eat other companions.” He resettled his wings and lifted his head slightly.
Vain creature. He was seeking her notice, so he could snub her when she offered it. The trick was unattractive, but it would probably help drive his point about Bennet’s inadequacies home.
“You are a gentleman’s companion, so I should give you credit for that much civility.” She coaxed the little fairy dragon on to her shoulder. “But still, I think you quite the bully for scaring her so.”
Walker started. He was not accustomed to reprimand. “I should think you would have taught her some sense by now.”
Miss Elizabeth’s lip rose in a half smile—a positively draconic expression. “I shall consider that a compliment, if you believe me capable of teaching a dragon, even a very small one anything. May I present my companion, April.”
Darcy snorted. Every bit a senseless tuft of fluff as her companion.
Some help he would have out of this family.
Walker half spread his wings and dipped in his version of a bow. Not to the tiny blue fluff, but to Miss Elizabeth.
He had little regard for men in general, but even less for women. Nearly tore the feathers out of Caroline Bingley’s headdress the last time he saw her. What was he doing, showing such considerations to the forgettable daughter of a self-important keeper of an insignificant wyvern?
She curtsied to Walker and reached for him. Foolish girl would learn one did not touch a cockatrice uninvited. Probably never dealt with one before. She would be lucky if he did not draw blood. Would serve her right for her impertinence.
Capricious creature, he stretched his neck, reaching for her fingers. She found a spot of molting feathers and scratched. Ungrateful wretch, he all but cooed as she did.
What was Walker playing at?
“There is a place in the garden on the sunset side of the house, in the center of the roses. It is set aside for dustbathing. The bushes are thick and thorny enough to offer you privacy. The dust will soothe that molting itch for you.” She stroked his cheek feathers with the back of her finger.
How did she know Walker was too vain to dust bathe where he could be seen?
Walker cheeped happily, offering another spot to scratch.
“I should thank you not to interfere with my companion or distract him from our task at hand.” Darcy cut between her and Walker.
“Indeed, sir, I think your companion entirely able to speak for himself. He does not seem distraught.” She blinked up at him with affected innocence.
Darcy growled under his breath. “Keep your senseless little flit away from him—from us—or I shall—”
“Shall what? Fall off your horse?”
“Elizabeth!” Bennet stomped and glowered. “That is quite enough. You, both of you are excused.”
She cast a look his way more toxic than basilisk venom and twice as plentiful. With a toss of her head, she stalked out.
Walker shrieked his displeasure. Full on shivers coursed down Darcy’s spine. Pray no one else in the house heard that or panic might ensue.
Walker launched from the perch, knocking it to the floor, and sped out the window.
Darcy pointed one hand toward the window and the other toward the door. “If this is the help I am to expect out of Longbourn, then I am better off proceeding without it.”
“Arrogant fool. Have you any idea of the terrain here, the lay of the land? Are you aware of where something like a dragon egg might be hidden here? The number of small caves and caverns here is staggering. The task is far beyond you, and your Uncle knows it. You will realize it soon enough.”
“Good day to you, sir. I will show myself out.” Darcy spun on his heel and strode out before Bennet could reply. Or maybe he just chose to ignore Darcy. That was equally possible, though not nearly as satisfying.
The absolute gall of that nameless upstart! For all that Bennet might be an officer in the Order, the Bennets had only been Dragon Keepers for four hundred years. How could he presume to lecture a Darcy?
Dragon Keeper D’Arcy descended directly from the Pendragon line. His family had been hearing and keeping dragons for nigh on seven hundred years.
Bennet had no right to take such an attitude!
But then his family had never permitted an egg to be so wholly compromised as to be taken from its ancestral home.
Five days later, Elizabeth and Jane walked through Mama’s cutting garden, armed with baskets and shears. The vases in the dining room and entrance hall needed filling.
The midmorning sun inched toward its apex. The last of the morning freshness burned off into the day’s heat—just enough to be noticeably warmer, but without with the oppression of the summer sun. A largely perfect day.
“I am surprised April is not with us. She loves the flowers so.” Elizabeth clipped a large marigold blossom and tucked it in the basket.
“I am not sure she trusts the new cat Mrs. Hill has taken in.” Jane pointed at Rumblkins who carried a large rat toward the kitchen door.
He dropped it on the step and rose up to drum his forepaws on the door. Mrs. Hill opened the door with a happy gasp.
“You dear, dear creature.” She crouched and scratched Rumblkins’ throat until he purred loud enough to be heard across the yard. He rubbed against her ankles and wove around her feet.
“I have a treat for you. Wait just a moment.” She disappeared inside, returning with a saucer of cream and a dried cod. “Just as I promised you! And you shall have another for every rat you bring me.”
Dear Hill was exactly as Elizabeth had assured him she would be. She pressed her lips hard. It would be difficult not to gloat to the furry tatzelwurm later.
Rumblkins lapped the cream and started on the fish. Hill sat beside him, stroking his fur.
“I have never seen her so taken with a cat before,” Jane said.
“I think she has never seen such a mouser before. But it is a good thing, I think. With fewer rats in the poultry there are more eggs for us.”
“And less salt cod.” Jane giggled. “I know how you detest the stuff.”
Elizabeth bit her knuckle. “I may have suggested it would not be inappropriate to make up a basket near the kitchen hearth for him.”
He was a fine little dragon. There was no point in not seeking mutual benefit.
“I know Mama does not prefer cats, but she hates mice even more.”
“And his purr is very persuasive.”
Not that Rumblkins had much need to use it on Hill. Mama might be another story though.
“Indeed it is.” Jane stared at Rumblkins, her brow knit.
Elizabeth studied Jane.
Was it possible she was beginning to hear? Some came into their hearing later in their lives—like Aunt Gardiner.
“Do you ever wonder—I think sometimes he is speaking in all those rumbles and purrs.” Elizabeth bit her lip. That was more than she ought to say.
Jane chuckled. “You do say the oddest things, Lizzy. What an imagination you have. That sounds like a story you would tell our little cousins.”
Elizabeth laughed along. It was the best way to conceal her disappointment. Dragons were the one thing she did not share with Jane. Sometimes it was easy enough to ignore, but at times like now, the cavernous gap between them ached like the death of a friend.
Hill rose. “So, shall you bring me another rat, or do you wish to come and sleep by the fire?”
Rumblkins batted the door and she opened it for him. He trotted inside, but paused and looked over his shoulder at Elizabeth.
“You are right. I like her very well indeed.” He ended with a very convincing meow.
Cheeky little fellow.
Mrs. Hill shut the door behind him, mindful of his proud long tail.
“Are you not worried about April? That cat is such an adept mouser—”
“I am entirely certain of him. Just as certain as you are that Mr. Bingley is as handsome as he is charming.” Elizabeth forced a smile.
Any more talk of the wonderful Mr. Bingley might well drive her to distraction, but it was by far the most expedient way to change the subject.
“He is, is he not? And his friend is very well-favored, too.”
“That is Mama’s opinion, and I believe it is strongly influenced by the ten thousand a year he is said to have.”
“How can you say such a thing?”
“Lizzy! Lizzy!” Mary ran toward them.
“Stop and catch your breath or you shall make yourself ill.” Jane caught her elbow.
Mary braced her hands on her knees, panting hard. “Papa says you are wanted immediately, Lizzy. I am to bring you myself.”
“Of course.” She handed Jane her basket and shears. “Should I send Kitty to assist you?”
“No, no. I am happy to walk by myself for a bit.”
…and daydream of Mr. Bingley by the look on her face. Was it wrong to be jealous of Jane’s freedom? Best not think of it now.
Elizabeth took Mary’s arm and hurried for the house. “Is it time?’
“April says it is. Aunt Gardiner is already with Papa.”
“And the children?”
“Lydia has taken them to play with the young Lucases.”
“A convenient excuse to gossip with Maria about the Netherfield party?”
“Of course. I think he means to invent an errand for Mama, Kitty and Jane as well. He was seeking Mama when I left.”
It would be best that way. The last thing they needed was the worry of keeping Mama at bay.
Mary paused and squeezed her hand. “Are you sure this is a good idea? What if—”
Elizabeth tugged her hand and urged her to continue. “Do not dwell on that. I am sure it will be fine. You have been talking to the eggs when you sit with them?”
“Until Mama suggested I needed a goodly dose of poppy tea if I was going to talk to myself so much.
Elizabeth snickered. If Mama knew what was actually going on, she would be the one needing great quantities of poppy tea.
They slipped into Papa’s study. He had somehow managed to clear away the clutter. Probably stashed it under the desk, but still it was a good thing if there were to be four people and even more dragons within.
The windows were shut against any marauding dragons who might snack on the hatchlings. The curtains were half drawn, dimming the light for their sensitive eyes. The room smelt of clean straw and simmering soup.
Papa sat on a stool near the hearth adding slivers of blood and treacle pudding to a pan of simmering broth on the hob. The dragon chicks would eat well when they arrived.
How had he cut them when he could barely hold a knife? The things he could manage to do when dragon-inspired!
Aunt sat nearby. Rustle perched on the back of her chair. Odd that he did not use the perch. He generally did not prefer to be so close to her.
Rumblkins leaned against her legs, purring. She scratched his ears, anxious anticipation in her eyes. April perched on the hatching box, hopping from one foot to the other.
“Go sit with Aunt Gardiner, Mary. We have not long to wait.” Papa said, beckoning Elizabeth to him. “Bring me those flannels.”
She picked up a stack of three soft cloths from the desk.
“The hatchlings must have our scent as soon as they hatch. Rub each cloth along your throat and hands. Do not forget Rustle and Rumblkins, too. We will dry the hatchlings with them, to give them our scent.”
Rumblkins enjoyed the attentions, even rolling over to present his belly for a rub.
Rustle did not.
He was a very different creature to Mr. Darcy’s companion. Though hardly the ratty, unkempt bird April claimed him to be, he had none of the regal bearing of Walker. Almost like a gentleman wearing his best suit standing beside Beau Brummel. Clean and well kept, but somehow lacking in those fine details that set Brummel apart. Walker was definitely the Brummel of cockatrices.
“When will these flutterbobs get on with it?” Rustle peered over Aunt Gardiner’s shoulder. “It is not a propitious start that they should already keep us waiting.”
His words were slow and clear, very near to Aunt Gardiner’s ear.
She half-closed her eyes and concentrated as he spoke.
“I think, yes—babies of all kinds are that way. Do you recall how little Joshua kept us waiting with the midwife declaring it should be today every day for a fortnight?”
“Indeed I do. That was very good, very good.” Rustle touched her cheek with his wing. Apparently the discovery she was indeed able to hear had changed his attitude toward her. He would never credit April for the intelligence, though.
“Tell me again Papa, what do we do when they hatch?” Mary worried one of the flannels between her fingers.
Papa pointed at a ladle near the pan. Elizabeth ladled out three silver thimbles of broth, now richly colored from the blood pudding.
“It is best to allow the hatchlings to break free on their own. But if they cannot tear through the inner membrane, I have a small knife to cut through it. When their wings are free, you may pull the rest of the shell away, very gently. Then dry it with the flannel, talking very softly to it all the while. Tell it how welcome it is and offer it the broth. If it drinks, then offer it meat. Assure them there is plenty and invite it to stay. Offer it a name. If it wishes to leave, then take it to the window and allow it freedom to choose.”
Elizabeth laid her hand on Mary’s back and leaned close. “It will be fine. I promise.”
April hunkered down in the straw between the eggs and threw her head back. She trilled a high sweet note. Soft cheeps came from the eggs. The one nearest Mary wobbled and rocked.
A tiny, sharp nose poked through the mottled drab-blue shell. April warbled encouragement. It was a good sign that it had managed to pierce the membrane on its own. The leathery shell tore halfway down and a wet little head poked through. Shiny jet-bead eyes darted back and forth.
Elizabeth nudged Mary. “She’s looking for a familiar voice. Talk to her.”
“Ah, what a sweet little thing you are.” Mary whispered leaning close.
The tiny head twisted toward Mary, eyes fixed on her. She cheeped something that sounded like a question.
“Yes, it is me. I have been talking to you for the last few days.”
She pulled one wing free and shook it, sending droplets of egg slime flying.
Mary reached for the flannel.
Elizabeth stayed her hand. “Wait until both wings are free.”
April hopped to the half-free hatchling and pecked at the shell, scolding.
Impatient little thing.
Another wing broke free and the hatchling tried to flap herself away from the shell.
“Now, Mary,” Papa said.
April side-stepped Mary’s hand as she peeled away the rest of the shell from the hatchlings’ feet. The scraggly, wet fairy dragon wobbled onto Mary’s waiting hand.
“There you go, dear. Give me a moment to get you tidied up. You will feel much better for it.” She scrubbed it gently with the flannel.
Tiny feathers fluffed and dried. The soggy hatchling turned into a purple-pink heather-colored ball of fluff.
Fairy dragon chicks were nothing if not adorable.
The other egg began to quiver. Aunt Gardiner tended it as Mary offered the fluffy chick broth from the silver thimble.
She drank it down greedily.
Mary stroked her back with the tip of her finger. “Slow down, little one, there is plenty. I have meat for you if you like.”
She warbled far more loudly than her size should have allowed. Papa produced a spoonful of blood and treacle pudding slivers on a china saucer.
If only Mama knew what her mother’s tea set was being used for!
April flitted between the saucer and the hatching box as another head tore through its shell.
Mary offered slivers as fast as the chick could gobble them. “Slow down, you need not gorge. There as much as you want.”
The chick paused and stared at Mary, blinking, head cocked.
“I should like to call you Heather, if I may.”
The tiny head bobbed up and down. “You may.”
Her voice was so high and thin it was difficult to hear. That would change in time, but for now, it might make it challenging for Aunt to hear the chicks. Would that cause the other chick to look to Mary or her or to leave them altogether? Two chicks could easily overwhelm Mary—
“Hungry!” Heather demanded.
Rustle and Rumblkins crowded close. Heather squeaked and backed away into Mary’s arm.
Mary held the wet flannel up for Heather to smell. “They are friends, part of the Keep. Do not be afraid.”
Rumblkins inched forward and sniffed Heather. He licked her soundly, though she shuddered. His raspy tongue fluffed her feathers so prettily, she gave him a bit of a cuddle before returning to Mary’s hand.
Heather was a sweet little thing. April would have pecked him soundly on the nose.
Mary held Heather up to Rustle who preened the feather-scales of her wings. She trilled.
He sneezed and shook his head. “So much fluff.”
Heather cheeped a question at Mary.
“You are perfect little one, simply perfect.”
Aunt Gardiner applied a clean flannel to another newly hatched fairy dragon, revealing striking red-orange plumage.
“Oh, I have never seen one like him!” Elizabeth whispered.
He guzzled broth and snarfled down blood pudding, feet secured tightly around Aunt’s finger. His voice was loud and demanding, far easier to hear than Heather’s.
In short order, he accepted the name Phoenix and fell asleep in Aunt’s palm.
Rustle prodded him and Phoenix roused enough to land a sharp peck on the cockatrice’s beak.
Rustle jumped back in a flutter of wings. “He will do, indeed he will.”
Aunt offered Rustle a generous lump of blood and treacle pudding for the compliment.
One egg remained, forlorn between the abandoned shells. Rumblkins batted at it. The egg toppled over, but did not move further. April landed beside it and pecked at it in an odd syncopated rhythm. She rolled it over with her feet and pecked again.
“Mine?” Rumblkins batted at it again.
April snorted and flitted to Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“Not here, take it away from Heather and Phoenix.” Papa’s voice was grave and sad.
Rumblkins picked up the egg and trotted toward the door. Papa let him out.
Elizabeth rubbed the ache in her chest. Rumblkins was the only one who could look fondly upon an unhatched egg.
“Perhaps you might allow me to examine the hatchlings now?” Papa slipped in beside Mary.
She held up the sleeping Heather.
He picked up the fairy dragon and examined her carefully, muttering under his breath. “Yes, yes, very good. Well-formed wings, all her toes. A lovely specimen.” He returned the chick to Mary.
Aunt Gardiner offered Phoenix for Papa’s inspection. “Not many male fairy dragons are hatched, you know. Perhaps only one in four, I believe. You have a very rare little gentleman there, Maddie. Lovely, lovely color. That dark patch will become an eye ridge, a bit of a crest on his forehead when he is grown. You may find yourself very popular in London once your new companion becomes known.”
Rustle hopped toward Papa. “I shall warn the cockatrix who come to call that he and his visitors are not to be meddled with.”
Rustle enjoyed a fair number of female callers, but that might change now. Aunt would probably not want the children exposed to such on-goings.
“So you find him acceptable, do you now?” Papa returned Phoenix to Aunt and directed Elizabeth to cut another slice of blood pudding for Rustle. “I am pleased to hear it.”
“What do we do now, Papa?” Mary asked, stoking her check against Heather’s fluff.
“I have prepared a ‘sick room’ in the attic for you and your aunt. You must go upstairs with the hatchlings and remain there until they no longer require constant feeding and attention. Usually for fairy dragons, that is three to five days. I am afraid that means you shall miss the assembly, Mary.”
“I have no cause to repine, Papa.” She sighed happily.
Oh the look in Mary’s eyes! Somehow she looked like a new woman. Elizabeth blinked against her blurry vision. The little companion dragon might be exactly the thing to give Mary the confidence to come into her own.
“When they return, I shall tell them you both have taken a sudden fever and the apothecary said you must be separated from the rest of the family. Since Lizzy has already been exposed, she is the only one to tend you. Fanny does not like nursing, so I doubt there will be much fuss made over it.”
Elizabeth snickered. And if there was, the resident dragons would be called upon to persuade Mama to see things their way.
“Keep the chicks warm and fed. Talk to them, and keep them close to you. They are apt to form very strong bonds with you—one of the fairy dragons’ more endearing qualities.”
April cheeped and flew toward his ear, but he covered it before she could nip. “That, by the way, is not an endearing trait.”
April scolded, then alighted on Elizabeth’s shoulder.
“Now, upstairs with you, and settle in. It will be a long few days for us all.”
I’m pretty convinced our newest cat is a tatzelworm, but I wouldn’t mind a fairy dragon around the house. How about you?