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Scrobscyr Dragon Saga - Chapter 3

Updated: May 22, 2023


Gareth is a Snotingaham dragon who tried to help Blaedswith

when she was captured by raiders

There had been times in his life that Gareth had felt more despondent. He was sure of it. At the moment he couldn’t think of any, but surely there must have been. After the Scrobscyr female, Blaedswith, had taken off with her younglings, heading towards the border, Gareth headed for the Supreme Leader’s cave. He was not looking forward to explaining to the older dragon, who had sent Gareth to check on what Guthwine’s gang were up to, exactly what had transpired. That Guthwine’s hooligans had caught some Scrobscyr younglings and attempted to bring them back to Guthwine’s cave. That they had failed in this but Guthwine had ordered the adult female Scrobscyr dragon they had captured almost by accident, thrown into one of the lower caves and left to die there, with the entrance completely blocked. Only Gareth knew, (he hoped) that Blaedswith had escaped and recovered the younglings.

At the Supreme Leader’s cave he entered cautiously and found the leader surrounded by his usual group of “advisors” and general sycophants. He wondered why the Leader couldn’t see how self-serving they were. As he approached the group the Leader spotted him and called him to come forward and report. Gareth was reluctant to speak in front of the assembled hangers on, and the Leader seemed to sense his uncertainly and drew him aside from the group.

“What did you find out?” He enquired.

“I’m afraid that the news is not good.” Said Gareth diplomatically. “Guthwine and his gang made an attempt to capture some of Scrobscyr Clan’s younglings. They got them over the border, but two females came along and attacked the gang. The younglings escaped, but they did capture one of the females.”

“Did all the younglings escape? They didn’t recapture any of them”

“No, fortunately they all got away. But I’m sorry to say that Guthwine then walled up the female in a cave and left her to die”. The Leader didn’t seem the least bit interested in the fate of the female. He was still asking about the younglings.

“How many did they capture? How far had they brought them? Will any of them still be in our territory? Surely they would be too young to find their own way home.”

“I think the female who escaped took some of them with her” said Gareth warily. He wasn’t at all sure where this was going or how to frame the rest of his report. With a sinking feeling in his gut he decided for the moment not to volunteer any more information.

“What about the others. Can we find them do you think?”

“I really couldn’t say”. Gareth was certain now. The Supreme Leader had not sent him to check on Guthwine’s gang in order to stop what they were up to, but because he had ordered the raid and didn’t trust the gang either to do it efficiently or to bring back their captives to him. Gareth fell silent, but the Leader didn’t seem to notice. He was intent on his own thoughts and was speculating aloud about whether to send another gang to search for the missing younglings. At this point Gareth had absolutely no intention of disclosing that Blaedswith had taken the younglings with her, or indeed that she had escaped at all. Watching the leader he was struck by how much he had changed since Gareth had been a dragonet and had come to serve as messenger to the Supreme Leader. Then the dragon had seemed an intelligent and honourable individual whom Gareth was proud to serve. Now that Gareth looked with fresh eyes, he saw that the copper hide was dull and misted with grey fuzz. The whiskers round the leader’s muzzle were grey too, and his faceted eyes no longer bright as jewels. His mind seemed less sharp and his sense of humour was missing. It was as though he was very old, but Gareth knew that he was a powerful male, in the prime of his life. One did not otherwise become Supreme Leader.

He ventured a question, trying to frame it in a way that would not further enrage the Leader.

“Is it important that the younglings escaped?” The older dragon looked at him and Gareth seemed to see anguish under the ever-present anger.

“We need younglings. I must save the clan. Surely you see that. We must do whatever is necessary. Whatever! I can’t think of the ethics of it. The clan must be saved. We are dying….” The Leader’s eyes were on the ground, and his voice trailed off. More concerned than ever, Gareth was silent. He wasn’t at all clear what the Supreme Leader meant, but he certainly didn’t like the sound of it.

After a moment the Leader seemed to collect himself and lifted his head.

“What are Guthwine and his gang doing now?”

“I’m afraid I have no idea. I went to try and free the female and when I returned they had gone. Guthwine didn’t tell me his plans.” The Leader ‘s eyes narrowed and the look he gave Gareth was suspicious.

“Why did you free the enemy female?”

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to free her. The tunnel entrance was collapsed for too great a distance.” The moment he had spoken, Gareth knew it was a mistake. The Leader’s gaze slid into a glare and his neck curled upwards so that he looked down on the younger dragon. The sadness had passed and the anger was back in charge. Even with his appearance of age, the Leader was an impressive figure.

“Lucky for you that you didn’t succeed. The enemy must be destroyed!” He hissed. His forked tongue flicked in and out in rage. “I wonder about your loyalty Gareth. Treason cannot be tolerated.” The Leader turned away and went back to his group of advisors near the fire.

Gareth realised that he was shaking. He tried to breathe slowly and backed as quietly as possible into the shadows. For the first time in his life he felt unsafe in the Leader’s presence. While part of his mind grieved for the dragon the Leader had been, most of it was filled with fear for himself and his family. He stood for a little while in the shadows, until his trembling died away and his legs felt under his control. Then he began to drift quietly back into the darkest part of the cave. Casually he moved round the outer edge of the cave towards the entrance. There was always a certain amount of coming and going in the Leader’s cave. Messengers arriving and leaving, gang leaders, dragons wanting to request favours from the Leader and those trying to curry favour. Gareth hoped that the general bustle would cover his exit. He waited until he was sure the whole group by the fire were focussed on a newly arrived messenger before he strolled as casually as he could out of the wide entrance, still keeping to the shadows. He moved slowly to one side of the grassy apron in front of the cave and dropped quietly over the edge of the cliff. His great wings snapped out and he swooped upwards, beating strongly to gain height before turning for home. Most of the dragons coming to the Leader would fly fairly low because they would be hurrying, so he maintained his altitude until his own mountain came into view. It was a long flight and day was broad before he arrived.

The mountain where he lived was a bare, craggy peak, jagged and inhospitable. The lower slopes were clad in dark coniferous forests where flying was impossible. They ran down the gullies and ravines in a dark-green flood, showing the contours of the rock. Gareth’s cave system was just at the lower edge of the pine forest, hidden by the trees, so that he had to land and walk up into the trees to get to the entrance. The summit was covered with snow all year and it was not the most desirable place to live, but it was secluded, with no near neighbours, and Gareth and Aewynn had been able to take possession without a fight, so he was fond of it. Before he reached it he dropped to hunting height over the plain where grazers and large birds lived.

Landing at the cave system he shared with his beloved mate, Gareth went softly inside the living cavern. Aewynn was curled up in the corner where the sands were hottest. Gareth knew that she was curled round her eggs and his heart sank. He had hoped she would be awake and in a good mood, but her position told him that she was in a brooding trance. It was a state that many females dragons went into intermittently while their eggs were incubating. There was no need for her to incubate them herself, but the hormonal swings to which brooding females were subject sent them into this semi-conscious state and they would remain curled round their eggs for days sometimes, oblivious to their surroundings. Eventually she would wake, hungry and irritable. Although Aewynn was normally the mildest and most loving of mates, after a brooding trance she was likely to bite his head off, rather more literally than he liked to consider.

Gareth approached quietly and looked sadly at his mate and her tiny clutch. Only two eggs this time. The last brood had only been three and none of them had hatched. Like all the Snotingaham dragons, breeding was becoming more difficult for Gareth and Aewynn. They had only raised two offspring to maturity in all the years of their pairing. One of those had been killed in a gang fight and the other had paired with a Lunenwyc dragon and moved to her parent’s cave in the next territory.

He debated whether to wake her, but that never ended well. A female suddenly awoken from a brooding trance would come out fighting, and he didn’t want to lose a limb. He had taken the precaution of bringing home a large grazing beast, hoping that feeding would help her temper. He knew he’d have to do something. It could be days before she surfaced, and they needed to talk urgently about what to do. The eggs were due to hatch imminently though, so hopefully that would help. He brought in some wood, carrying the branches awkwardly in his arms and walking on his hind legs. It was a bit undignified, but the only way a dragon could manage to transport bulky items, so he didn’t give it a thought.

He lit the fire and sat on the warm sands for a while, gazing into the flames, planning their escape. He was afraid that, when the Leader found he had left without permission, he would send a gang after him, given his reservations about Gareth’s loyalty. Just as he had nerved himself to give Aewynn a nudge he heard a faint tapping. Aewynn stirred and sat up, bending her head to nose at the eggs and making a soft purring sound. It was hatching time. Gareth hurried over to the corner and put his nose down to the silvery eggs beside Aewynn’s. He could hear the high-pitched piping of the hatchlings as they tapped busily at the shells from the inside. As always the impulse to help them was almost overwhelming, but he restrained himself. The hatchlings must be allowed to make this first great effort alone. Slowly the line of cracks crept around the egg. Sometimes the hatchling would stop to rest and Gareth’s heart was in his mouth until the tapping started again. Often in the past this was the point at which their hatchlings had not had the strength to break out of their shells, and although the parents had tried to help, the little ones had never survived.

At last the line of striations was complete and the first egg rocked violently as the hatchling pushed its shoulders and feet against opposite sides of the shell. Suddenly the two halves fell neatly apart and the tiny dragon, small even by hatchling standards, toppled out. Aewynn had helpfully extended her wing as the egg broke so that the dragonet fell onto her leathery wing membrane rather than the sand. Aewynn scooped him up with her wing and transferred him to her arms, cuddling him against her chest and crooning to him. The second shell cracked open and Gareth caught the hatchling in the same way and held her in the crook of his arm.

The hatchling opened her diamond bright eyes and looked blearily up at her father. Her tiny claws extended and retracted as though she was testing them out, and her little forked tongue came out to lick her still sticky muzzle. The egg tooth protruding from the velvet nose would fall off within a day and the eyes would change from clear to a bright jewel colour as the hatchling grew. The little wings would expand and the limbs grow long and lanky, so that by the time the hatchlings reached youngling status they would have adult eyes and wings that could carry them efficiently in flight. During her time as a youngling, the dragonet would put on muscle and fill out to adult proportions. As an adult the dragon would be expected to be ready to fight for the Snotingaham clan. This might take the form of patrolling the borders, or joining a raiding party to steal grazing beasts from the Scrobscyrs or picking a fight with one of their patrols just for the hell of it. As the dragonets grew Gareth and Aewynn would teach them as much as they could about fighting, but essentially they would have to learn by experience. They would probably join one of the loose gangs that liked to raid into enemy territory, the Snotingahams having no structured military or training.

The hatchlings were born hungry and Gareth and Aewynn hastened to bite small chunks from the grazer carcass to feed them. Gareth encouraged Aewynn to eat as well, for she had lost weight during her brooding time. At last all were full and the hatchlings asleep, each in a parent’s arms. They decided to call the male Athalond and the female Sigeburg. Gareth only hoped they could live to maturity. They were smaller than they should have been at hatching, but at least they had survived that ordeal, and Gareth and Aewynn would do everything in their power to help them grow and thrive.

With this in mind Gareth broached the subject to Aewynn, seeing that she was restored to her usually sunny disposition with the birth of her hatchlings.

“You remember, love, that I told you about the raiding parties that were going out into the Scrobscyrs land?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say what they were after this time. Was it more grazers?”

“No, I found out that they were trying to catch Scrobscyr younglings.”

“What? Why would they do such a terrible thing? Their poor families! What did they want them for?”

Gareth sorted this rather incoherent exclamation out and decided to go with the simplest question.

“Apparently they were trying to solve the problem of our dropping hatching rate by stealing healthy younglings. I’m not sure what their eventual aim was, but I imagine it was to place them with families who have not been able to hatch a healthy brood.”

“I would have thought hatchlings would be better than younglings. By that age they have their own opinions and they’d remember their parents too well. If they took hatchlings young enough they could bring them up as their own and they wouldn’t remember properly. But either way its immoral, unethical and just wrong!”

Gareth loved his mate when she got all riled up. Her violet eyes flashed light from every facet and her copper hide flushed a deeper colour.

“Yes and it appears the Leader knew about it and maybe ordered it. I think there’s more going on even than that and I don’t like any of it. They caught a female today who came after her youngling, but she’d stowed the little one somewhere and they didn’t find it. The gang who caught her took her to the gang leader and he threw her in a lower cave and collapsed the entrance tunnel. They were going to leave her to die!”

Aewynn was speechless. She and Gareth had been feeling less comfortable with the way things were being run in the Snotingaham territory for some time, but this was the worst thing she had heard yet.

“I tried to dig the tunnel out, but they’d brought down too much, and I didn’t want them to catch me at it. They’d probably have entombed me as well. Anyway, when I came back they’d all gone off somewhere, so I went out and tried to find a crack or something leading to the lower cavern from the outside. I found a hole that went way down and it looked like the female had somehow climbed up and dug her way out. I flew to where the gang said they had caught her and spotted her heading for the border with two younglings, so I followed her and accosted her just before she crossed. She wasn’t best pleased to see me”

Aewynn rolled her eyes but said nothing.

“But I told her that I wasn’t up for taking younglings and promised to help her if I can by telling her if they plan anything similar. Then I went to report to the Leader. I thought he’d be angry at the gang, but he seemed to be more annoyed that it hadn’t succeeded. Anyway I don’t think he’s pleased with me.” This was a major understatement, but he didn’t want to alarm Aewynn more than he could help. “The female I spoke to, her name was Blaedswith, said I could go to the Scrobscyrs if I wanted to, but obviously I couldn’t leave you and these two.” He didn’t meet her eyes as he spoke. Aewynn looked at him thoughtfully.

“What are you trying to say Gareth? Just say it, whatever it is”

“I think we should leave Snotingaham and take refuge with the Scrobscyrs. It would be safer for all of us, and Athalond and Sigeburg would have a better chance to grow up. You know something’s not right in this area, or why are we all struggling so?” Gareth finished in a rush.

“Yes, I agree. Let’s leave tonight” Gareth gaped at her. He had expected an argument and had thought about all the things he could say to convince Aewynn. This was the last thing he’d expected.

“Just like that?”

“Yes, just like that. You know I’ve always hated the way they carry on, the gangs and the Leader just letting them do as they like. The grazers are getting scarce and the air just doesn’t taste right. And I’m certainly not being part of any stealing of younglings. I’ve always been proud of you that you have not joined a gang or done any raiding, but I’ve always worried that they would make you pay, and I’ve just had enough. If we have a chance to get away, lets take it with both hands!”

Relieved but slightly dazed, Gareth put his arm around his mate and extended his wing over her.

“We should set out as soon as its dark. It will take us most of the night to reach the border, and we may have to lie low for a while to make sure there are no patrols on our side. Ideally we need to find one of their patrols and try to give ourselves up to them.”

Gareth met Blaedswith as she rescued her youngling Wulfram from the Snotingaham raiders.

Dragons having no possessions but their caves, there were few preparations to make. They talked a while longer, stroking their sleeping hatchlings as they discussed the route they should take to the Scrobscyr/Snotingaham border. Although it had seemed to happen very quickly, the hatching had taken more time than Gareth had realised, and very soon the light began to fade. The biggest problem they would face would be keeping the hatchlings warm enough during the flight. They would need to fly as high as possible to avoid being seen and the air was cold up there. Added to that, the wind of their flight would chill the babies as well. Although Gareth and Aewynn would carry one each, cuddling them tightly in their arms, both doubted that it would be enough. Hatchlings were normally kept in the living cave, on the warm sands for a few days until they had settled in to life outside the egg and had grown a little. Athelond and Sigeburg, being smaller than normal hatchlings, would be even more at risk of chilling.

“If only we had something to wrap them in” murmured Aewynn, stroking Sigeburg’s flank. Although they have sensitive and dextrous fingers, dragons do no craftwork or manufacturing. They need nothing other than a cave with warm sands, a hot pool, a freshwater spring and a supply of meat. Under normal circumstances hatchlings would be cared for by both parents, in the family cave and surrounding area, until they were old enough to fly and hunt for themselves. In these extraordinary circumstances, there was nothing that the anxious parents could do to protect the little ones.

As dusk fell Aewynn and Gareth left their cave for the last time. They had fed the hatchlings well and now each one cradled one of their offspring in their arms, wrapping them as tightly as possible against the soft, warm chest hide. They walked down over the thick carpet of pine needles to the edge of the forest and peered anxiously out between the trees.

“We are doing the right thing aren’t we?” asked Gareth.

“Absolutely, Love” Aewynn had no doubts about the wisdom of their action, though she was less confident about the outcome. “If the Leader is getting suspicious of you, we can’t risk staying. He’s getting less and less predictable. Even if we don’t make it to safety, at least we tried, and didn’t just sit there passively waiting to be arrested.”

“You’re right. You have more strength than I realised. Probably more than me.”

“You’ve just never seen me in a crisis before” his gentle mate replied.

After a last loving touch of their muzzles together, they took off and flew west towards the border with Scrobscyr lands.

The flight took a long time, and it seemed longer to the dragons because of fear of meeting one of the Snotingaham gangs, concern for their hatchlings and worry about what would happen if and when they met a Scrobscyr patrol. They stopped a couple of times to check on the dragonets and to rub warmth back into their little limbs. Neither dared to start a fire because of the danger of attracting unwanted attention, so they did their best to breath hot air over them without allowing it to become flame, no easy task for a dragon.

At last they reached the river that formed a short stretch of the border between the two territories. They had aimed for this deliberately because they reasoned that it would be well patrolled because of the ease of crossing it, and that it would be easier to spot Scrobscyr patrols in the flat area. Since they were not intending to sneak over the border, but wanted to claim refuge as quickly as possible, they were keen to meet a patrol at a place where they could try to make it clear that they were not enemy combatants, before they were flamed by the patrol. They were sure that the Scrobscyr dragons would still be enraged by the Snotingaham attack on their younglings and would be inclined to flame first and ask questions when the barbeque was over.

Crossing the river relieved them of one worry, but both Gareth and Aewynn felt as though their hearts would burst, so fast were they beating. Aewynn couldn’t get her breath and Gareth felt decidedly sick. Before landing they flew a little way into the plain through which the river ran. They would be clearly visible to any passing patrols. They hoped that a Scrobscyr patrol would happen this way before a gang of Snotingahams spotted them. Neither had any confidence that the gangs would hesitate to impinge on Scrobscyr lands to attack them if they were spotted.

Both hatchlings were suffering from the cold now, and had become limp and barely responsive. Gareth and Aewynn huddled close together and held the little ones between their bodies, trying to warm them. It was too early in the warm season for the nights to be anything but chilly. At last, they heard the soft whuffling sound of dragon wings beating in unison and saw about twenty dragons flying in two V formations, ten high up and ten just above tree top height. Aewynn and Gareth clasped hands convulsively. When the patrol was near Gareth called out

“Ahoy the patrol. Please help us, our hatchlings are sick and we are seeking refuge.”

The lower wing veered sharply towards them and the upper one swung in a wide circle around their position. Gareth and Aewynn laid their necks along the ground and covered their heads with one wing in the universal sign of surrender as the patrol landed. Six of the dragons took up positions around them, facing outwards, ready to flame at the first sign of a trap, while the other four surrounded them and scrutinised them closely. The one who had the greatest air of authority spoke at last.

“Who are you and what is your intention here?” Aware that all the dragons had their flame on a hair trigger, Gareth spoke softly, without removing his wing from his head - a position that precluded a dragon flaming without burning his own wing.

“We are Gareth and Aewynn, a mated pair from Snotingaham territory. We seek refuge with the Scrobscyr Clan because we are not in agreement with the actions and policies of the Snotingaham Leadership.”

“Have you taken part in any aggressive actions against the Scrobscyr Clan?”

“No, I swear by the shell of my mother’s egg that I have not, and neither has my mate.”

So far, so formal. Although the conflict between Scrobscyrs and the Snotingahams was at present mainly in the form of raids by one side into the other’s territory, they had nominally been at war for generations, and the procedures for seeking refuge had been strictly laid down long before. “Our two hatchlings are sick.”

The Wing Leader gave a sceptical sniff.

“What is wrong with your hatchlings? Is it an infectious disease? If so you may not enter our territory.”

“No they are chilled from our long flight. They only hatched today, but we dared not wait any longer to come away.”

“Why have you come here?”

“I fear that the Supreme Leader of the Snotingaham Clan seeks our lives. We do not agree with the policies and actions of the clan.” Gareth thought that bore repeating, in view of the form the actions had taken over the past few days.

“Is there any within the Scrobscyr Clan who will speak for you?”

“Blaedswith will speak for us. I don’t know how to find her though.” One of the other four dragons spoke up.

“I know her. I flew with her wing on night patrol last cold season.”

The wing leader regarded Aewynn and Gareth a few moments longer. His breath was running so hot that steam – or smoke – escaped his nostrils. Gareth’s heart rate increased again. A cold feeling started to grow in his belly. He was going to turn them away. They couldn’t go back, and there was no-where else for them to go. He felt the beginnings of panic welling up inside him. Suddenly Aewynn made a convulsive movement, bringing the arm that held Sigeburg out from the shelter of her body and offering her to the Scrobscyr dragons.

“Please!” she gasped “If you won’t let us in, have pity on our hatchlings. They don’t know our clans are enemies. Please take them to some pair who will look after them for us and see that they thrive!”

Gareth sincerely hoped that Aewynn’s plea was not seriously meant. Although he desperately wanted the babies to live, he didn’t know if he would be able to stop himself from fighting any dragon who tried to take them away from him. After a tense moment or two, the Wing-Leader gave a short sigh.

“Come with me then,” he said sternly, “I’ll take you to Radolf and the Elders to see what they want to do with you. You two, you and you” picking out four dragons from the half-wing on the ground, “come with us. The rest of you join the other half and continue the patrol. I doubt we’ll get back tonight, so we’ll meet at the start of the patrol tomorrow night.” Gareth was heartened that the Leader had not blocked his thoughts from Gareth this time. It was a small measure of trust that he had allowed the two strange dragons to hear his conversation with his Wing.

After they had flown west for a short while, with the Scrobscyr dragons surrounding Aewynn and Gareth, e the Wing Leader, with a word to his Wing, suddenly dropped out of the formation and dove towards the ground. They heard a sharp scuffling sound, and a moment later he flew up to join them with a small grazer dangling from his talons. The Wing glided down to the dark grassland below, and the Wing Leader offered the grazer to the two Snotingaham dragons. Perhaps you would like to feed your hatchlings and try to warm them a little before we proceed.” He remarked courteously. “Trickle a little of the blood into their mouths while we light a fire.”

Aewynn and Gareth did as he said. Sucking some of the grazer’s still-hot blood into their mouths and dribbling it carefully into the hatchlings’, making sure they didn’t choke them in the process. As the warmth of the blood, the fire and their parents’ bodies began to warm the hatchlings, they began to show signs of returning life, waving their arms and legs feebly and giving a few little squeaks. A few small chunks of meat revived them further, but neither took as much as Gareth felt they ought to before they fell asleep again. His eyes met those of the Wing-Leader for a long moment of mutual understanding and concern. Gareth passed Athalond to Aewynn and offered the rest of the grazer to the Wing-Leader.

“Perhaps your comrades would like to help with disposing of this.” He said politely.

The Wing-Leader accepted the offering gravely, inclining his head in thanks. The offer was more a token of friendship than anything, since the grazer was small, the dragons large and there were five of them.

“My name is Broga” he said. Gareth and Aewynn gave their names and those of the hatchlings, greatly relieved by this evidence of growing trust. Gareth was surprised and pleased by the evidence of compassion that the Scrobscyr dragons had shown. He couldn’t imagine the Snotingaham gangs showing that kindness to their prisoners.

When the dragons had polished off the remains of the grazer, which did not take long as it was no more than a few mouthfuls for each, the little band took to the sky once more and flew steadily west by south through the night. In spite of the darkness, Gareth’s excellent night sight showed him that the country they crossed was graced with range after range of magnificent mountains, covered or tipped with snow, and parted by lush valleys. Between the ranges lay wide stretches of grassland, interspersed with vast woodlands. He realised that the territory was much larger and a great deal richer than that claimed by the Snotingaham clan. The mountains would have many beautiful cave systems to provide accommodation for dragon families, and the valleys and plains would attract herds of grazers of different types. For the first time he began to understand some of the reason for the generations of conflict between the clans.

At last, not long before dawn, the Wing-Leader gave the order to lose height and the dragons landed in front of what was clearly a large cave system. A fire burned on the large grass area in front of the entrance and there seemed to be a lot of bustle and activity. Dragons were landing and taking off, and a steady stream of young ones were bringing in firewood and grazer carcasses, piling the former near the fire and laying the latter in a series of heaps that were spread over the whole area. Incoming dragons not so burdened would hurry over to the small group of dragons by the fire, consult with them and then take off again. This was the headquarters of a highly organised and numerous clan, Gareth realised. It also looked as though a gathering was being organised.

Once their group had landed, the Wing-Leader dismissed the escort with a word and guided Gareth’s family over to the fire. He greeted the dragons gathered there with respect, but not subservience, as an equal, but one who deferred by choice to the other dragons. He introduced Gareth, Aewynn and the hatchlings by name, then named his compatriots as Radolf, Bryni and Grendel, Elders of the Scrobscyr Clan. Broga explained briefly that Gareth’s family had claimed refuge, and then he stayed and joined in the discussion as by right. Radolf, a strong, dragon who emanated wisdom and maturity, though with no suggestion of excessive age, questioned Gareth and Aewynn about how and why it came about that they sought refuge. The Elders seemed satisfied with their replies, and Radolf told them kindly that they should rest and tend to their hatchlings, who had relapsed into cold and stillness during the flight.

“Accept the hospitality of my cave” he said gravely. “Eat and rest. Think about how long you intend to stay in our territory and what you would like to do while you are here. Tomorrow we will talk.”

“With respect Mester Radolf, I speak for both of us when I say that we wish to remain here and make our home with your clan.” Gareth blurted out. “Neither of us have family in Snotingaham Clan and we no longer wish to be part of them or their deeds. Already we have been shown a kindness and respect by your people that are unknown where we have lived.” Radolf inclined his head, but held up a hand.

“Please, there is no need for titles, I am just Radolf. All are equals here. All the adults anyway.” He added smiling. “We hear your words and will keep them in our minds. Let’s talk again in the morning.”

Broga escorted the little family into the cave and handed them over to Radolf’s mate Hilde, who took them, almost literally, under her wing. She gave them food, showed them a place to sleep, and helped them immerse the hatchlings in the hot-pool until they warmed to life again. Hilde held Athalond in the water while Gareth bit off tiny pieces of fresh meat and fed it to the hatchlings. Before long they were kicking their tiny legs and arms, albeit rather feebly, in the hot water and giving little hatchling squeals of pleasure. Aewynn and Gareth sat with Hilde by the fire that lit the cave, and asked her advice about how tiny and weak their hatchlings seemed.

“I have seen other hatchlings in times gone by that were bigger and stronger than these, though in truth, the few I have seen lately have not been much bigger than ours. And our broods seem to be getting smaller. I have not laid more than three eggs in the last few broods, and only these and two others, long ago, have hatched safely since we were paired.” Aewynn’s despair was clear in her mental voice and her beautiful sapphire eyes swam with tears. Gareth laid a hand on his mate’s arm and his wing sheltered her.

“Is it just your broods that have grown smaller and less viable?” asked Hilde.

“No, it seems to be everyone I know” Aewynn had herself under control again.

“It is throughout the Clan” put in Gareth. “I know that the Supreme Leader has been concerned about it for a long time. Though I never thought he’d….” He trailed off, not sure if he should discuss these things with anyone but the Elders.

“That would explain why they targeted the younglings” remarked Hilde, thoughtfully. “I wonder if they wanted them for….” She also failed to finish her sentence. After a moment, she patted Aewynn’s hand and gently stroked Sideburg’s belly where she lay in Aewynn’s arms. The three adults were sitting on their haunches, using their long tails to balance them.

“I’m afraid I have no idea what is causing the problems with the Snotingaham hatchlings, but it seems as though it might be something in the environment. At any rate, it clearly isn’t something wrong with the two of you. Unless… were you closely related before pairing?”

“No, I was not hatched in the Snotingaham Clan. My parents were Oxnaford dragons, but we moved into Snotingaham territory when I was a youngling, before the Oxnaford Clan were at war with the Snotingahams. Aewynn’s family are Snotingaham dragons.”

“Hmm, its not inbreeding then.” Mused Hilde. “Anyway, lets not worry about that anymore tonight. Your hatchlings will thrive and grow in our territory and we’ll go into this problem another time. In detail.” With these trenchant words, Hilde left Aewynn and Gareth to settle into their sleeping places.

First they delved deep hollows in the warm sands and deposited a hatchling in each. Then they curled, nose to tail, round their offspring. Each resting their head on the other’s flank. Gareth knew there would be many hours of interrogation in the next few days and that was fair enough. There was no reason for the Scrobscyrs to trust him or his mate just because they had sought refuge, but since they were sincere in their desire to serve the Scrobscyr clan he knew they would be believed in the end. As he lay, breathing the warm scent of his mate, feeling her soft hide under his cheek, Gareth realised that he felt different. He had not had this feeling, whatever it was for a long time. If ever, in fact. Just as he drifted off to sleep, he realised why. For the first time that he could remember, and he could remember a very long time, he felt safe.

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