It’s been raining and/or snowing here in central Arizona for the last four days. Usually precipitation comes, stays an hour or so and leaves. So to have four days of snow falling, not really sticking, but falling, is unusual. It’s prompted a winter story. Maybe more.
This has turned out more like a first chapter than a complete story. What do you think? Would you like to read more?
Winterthur: The Beginning
Gwella shifted her eighteen-foot length to coil on her right side. She eased onto the eggs beneath her with care. Winter was nearly over, soon game would emerge from their winter resting places and there would be food for her hatchlings. With long years of practice, she blew a small flame around the rocks of her nest, heating them to a dull red. Enough to keep the floor of their cave warm and the eggs that rested on the sand on top of the floor, the perfect temperature. She stretched her wings. Soon Feldin, her mate, and Flight leader, would return with something for her to eat. Tomorrow it would be her turn to hunt and his to sit and keep the eggs warm.
Several dragons, who lived in nearby caves, would be out with Feldin, hunting. It would be major game this time of year, buffalo or horses, or wolves if pickings were thin. She would prefer a nice big gator right now but they were hibernating deep in the mud of the Winterthur swamps like most of the reptilian life on the planet. Once the short summer came, the swamps and land thawed and the reptiles became the dominant species once again.
A buffet of cold air came down the passage to the outside. With it came the scent of her mate and of wolf. A poor hunting day, then.
Feldin entered the nesting area. He was not the largest dragon in their flight but at twenty-two feet long he was one of the biggest. She loved the shine of his gold scales as they reflected the dim light of the glowing rocks. It was hard to tell the red of his scales highlights from the red glow of the rock. He dropped the wolf in front of her.
“Feldin! Welcome home.”
He nosed her forehead between the eyes. “Mother of my hatchlings, you are well?”
“Well enough. I tire of egg sitting.”
“You say that every year.”
“It must be true, then.” Gwella chuckled, a rumbling that started low in her chest and rolled out through her long, emerald green neck. She eyed the wolf carcass. “Poor hunting?”
“It’s been a hard winter. The herds are very thin. It seemed best to leave them to breed for next year and eat the predators.” He lay circled around the nest, resting with his head next to hers. “Our flight grows too large. This spring I’ll propose splitting it and help the new group find their own home.”
The dragon’s necks twined, Gwella nuzzling her mate. “Meret as flight leader?”
“Perhaps. He is big enough but rash, too young yet, maybe. Nilde might be better.”
Gwella nodded. “She would be a good leader. She’s capable of making good, quick decisions. Her mate, Arath, is an excellent hunter.”
“It’s up to the new flight, of course, but that is what I’ll propose at the Spring Awakening.” He glanced down at the nest. “Can you tell when?”
“Two, maybe three weeks. When I go out tomorrow, I’ll see how the weather feels.”
“Fair enough. It will take the time it takes.”
It was three and a half weeks before the Awakening arrived, the day of the hatching and a celebration of new life for the dragons and for Winterthur. The cave filled with dragons who brought gifts for the mother of this year’s clutch of hatchlings. Food was the primary gift but woven grass mats, carved wood platters and bowls, and even dried rushes and grains were given. Feldin and Gwella thanked each giver in turn as food was shared and drinks were quaffed.
Outside, the weak sun, Yafnag, warmed the icy planet. Birds were scratching away the last vestiges of snow from sun-warmed spots to unearth still sleeping insects. Small mammals searched for new green shoots or fallen and forgotten seeds and fruit from last fall.
Gwella hovered over the nest, making sure the temperature stayed perfect. The eggs quivered, the shells cracked. Soon the entire assembly watched in silence as the moment grew near. Which egg would open first? Who would the hatchling choose as its mentor?
A small pop of shell falling and a squeak determined the winner. A buff egg in the center rocked violently as the hatchling fought with the tough shell. Soon other eggs followed, cracking open and rocking against each other as the new dragons worked to emerge. The first hatchling was nearly free. One more push and it split its shell in two, the hatchling falling over with a lusty squawk, flapping its tiny wings.
It clambered over its nest mates, falling at last into the warm sand. It rolled, drying off and stretching its wings. Only a foot long, the hatchling was red, an unusual color for a dragon, with silver highlights to its scales. A male, the crowd realized, as it began looking around the cave. He darted left, then right, then circled all the way around the nest, pushing aside his less coordinated siblings as he searched the room.
Hours later, the red hatchling was the only one left who had not connected with a mentor. No one could hear the hatchling’s telepathic voice. Gwella and Feldin were at a loss. They’d never heard of this happening before. The tiny creature howled and shrieked. They tried to feed it fresh rabbit, showed it where the water was but the little one wanted nothing to do with either. The Flight went home, taking their mentees with them.
“What do we do?” Gwella asked Feldin after their hatchling collapsed on the sand with exhaustion. She cradled the tiny thing between her forelegs.
“I’ll go to the other Flights, see if they’ve heard of such a thing.”
Gwella nodded. Until her hatchling could develop a speaking voice, how were they to teach it anything? It was breaking her heart. “Tomorrow, Feldin. Before the little thing dies of loneliness.”
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