How did Elizabeth befriend fairy dragon April? Certainly not the way she expected.
Rumblkins enjoyed his prize with relish. Truly, it was not a pleasant thing to watch a dragon eat —especially a dragon devouring his very favorite food. But a promise was a promise, and he deserved his reward.
According to Mama, Papa was not expected until close to dinner time, and Jane was in the nursery with her sisters, so she hurried up to her room with her treasures wrapped in her apron, none the wiser. She locked the door behind her and cleared her writing desk, moving the books from Papa’s library and her writing supplies to the nearby shelves. Carefully, so very carefully, she placed her apron on the desk and unwrapped the nest.
It resembled a birds nest, woven from twigs and vines, filled with thistle down and feathers gleaned from local chickens and ducks. Within were three eggs—fairy dragons usually laid eggs in threes—about half the size of a chicken’s egg, mottled and streaked, leathery rather than brittle.
With one finger, she stroked the eggs—they were just a mite soft and she could feel small movements within. Little cheeps came from inside as she touched them.
She leaned down very close and whispered, “Are you there little ones? Do you know I am here?”
The largest of the eggs wobbled just a little bit, as if in answer. Was that possible? Were the babies already able to hear and understand? That is not what she had been told about fairy dragons.
She retrieved her common place book from the shelf and found the notes she had made from Papa’s Dragon Bestiary. No, she remembered correctly. Other sorts of eggs responded to the human voice, especially very near hatching, but there was no record of fairy dragons doing so. Definitely something to make note of. Once she finished recording those details, she sketched the nest and the eggs themselves, including her hairbrush in the drawing to offer some scale. Far more interesting that the still life Mama suggested she try to sketch recently.
No, she was not the best at sketching yet, but even Mama would suggest this was good practice for her if, a mite unusual. It certainly was not an opportunity to waste—when would she get another opportunity to see dragon eggs?
Hatchings did not happen every day and to be entirely honest with herself, she was very low on the scale of who might be expected to have the opportunity to befriend a dragon, no matter how much she might wish for it. A little girl of a country gentleman’s house just did not rate that sort of favor, even for a mere fairy dragon. So she needed to make the most of this opportunity.
A knock at the door made her jump. Had it already gotten so late? When had the sun gotten so low in the sky?
“Lizzy? Let me in.” Papa’s voice sounded just a touch irritated.
She hurried to unlock the door.
“What have you been about that you have been looking for me and yet left the door locked?” He stepped in, closing the door behind him.
She edged in front of the writing desk. “It all has been so very urgent this morning. Yet you were not home, I tried to find you, very diligently, really I did. But at last I had to do the best I could on my own.”
His brows knotted as he looked at her. His gaze drifted to the desk behind her. “What is that?”
She looked over her shoulder. “That is the urgent business I was talking about.”
“That is not urgent business; it is a fairy dragon nest. What is it doing here?” He rolled his eyes the way he did when he was exasperated with Mama.
“Rumblkins found me this morning and told me that the brood parents have abandoned it to sleep through the cold season and there was a stoat endangering the eggs.” She grabbed his hand and pulled him toward her writing desk.
He dragged his hand over his face.
“Rumblkins took me to them and the nest fell out of the tree—in a gust of wind—” So that bit was not true, but he looked so very annoyed right now, trying to tell him that Longbourn had been involved seemed like a very bad idea. “And I caught it in my apron as it fell.”
“Of course it did.” His lips pulled tight in something not quite a grimace but definitely not a smile. “It just fell into your lap with no assistance from the tatzelwurm?”
“He did nothing to the nest, Papa. Absolutely nothing.” At least that part was entirely true. “And he was right, there were stoat tracks all around the tree. Had I waited, the eggs would no doubt have been eaten.”
He sank into the little white chair beside the desk, forehead in his hand.
She clutched her skirts, crushing them in her hands, the way Mama always told her not to. “We rescued the eggs, Papa. That is a good thing, is it not? That is what the Blue Order says we are to do—protect and preserve dragon life whenever we are able. And I did that today, did I not?”
“Oh, Elizabeth.” He sighed and rubbed his tired blue eyes. “Yes, I suppose that is the case.”
“You do not seem pleased, Papa.” She swallowed hard and bit her lips.
“Perhaps not. It is complicated my dear.”
“I do not understand.”
He ran his fingers over the edge of the nest. “Fairy dragons are, well they are barely dragons in many ways. They are on the verge of being nuisances to man and dragon alike.”
“They are small and cute and sometimes not very smart—that makes them nuisances?” The same thing could be said of Lydia and Kitty, but no one called them nuisances, at least not in Elizabeth’s hearing.
“There is a reason they are considered well—useless little flutterbobs and flitterbits. They have no territory, no wisdom to impart, they are not particular useful and not even very good company.”
“Does that mean they are not important? They are dragons after all.” She gripped her hands tightly together.
“Yes they are dragons, but, how can I explain? They reproduce at a much faster rate than other dragons so there are many, many nests.”
“They are also eaten by other creatures at a much higher rate. How many other dragons are preyed upon by stoats, cats, birds of prey not to mention nearly every other dragon type?”
“That is what it means to be the least of the dragons. If their numbers were not kept in check, we would be overrun with them.”
“They do not breed that fast.” She huffed a little but caught herself before Papa could react.
“You do not know that. Trust me, it would be a problem.”
“So I was wrong to save the nest?” She sniffled a little, her eyes burning.
“Had I been here, I would have counseled you that we ought to allow nature to take its course and permit things to happen as they ordinarily would.”
How could she have possibly been expected to neglect these wee little things who were already cheeping and recognizing her presence? “What will you do with them now?” She held her breath and forced herself to stand very still.
Papa carefully examined the eggs, holding them up to his ears, eyes closed. He stroked them firmly, holding his thumb over them, twitching slightly as each egg responded. With a distinct harrumph he returned them to the nest. “They are very close to hatching. It does not bode well that the brood parents would mate too late in the season for the eggs to hatch in summer, though. They are likely to be especially stupid creatures.”
She nodded, staring at the blurry floorboards.
“But it will not do to waste the opportunity, I suppose. There are always those among the order who are desirous of companions for wives and daughters that hear. I will make inquires and if there are potential Friends near, then I will make arrangements.” He pushed himself up from the chair, grunting.
And if not? The question danced on the tip of her tongue, but perhaps it was best not to ask. Contenting herself with this much good news she had was probably for the best right now.
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