Hey people, here we are, chapter three! The beginning of Saltus' child- uh, hatchling-hood ;) Now, before you start reading I'd like make a note: Saltus' hatchling-hood will last about three (and a half) chapters, counting this one. After that we'll get to the real meat of the story. I just wanted to show what it would be like for him, and a little of dragon history and culture. It didn't seem entirely right to jump from finding him on the beach to "Oh look how big he's gotten!" y'know? Anyway. enough of my chatter!
Years 1 - 4
The first few days after the adoption of Saltus had been quite… educational. Umbra had known from the start that human hatchlings were different from dragon hatchlings, she just hadn't stopped to consider how different they were. Looking back, perhaps she had been a bit naïve. Admittedly the decision had been hasty, considering she knew next to nothing about human hatchlings and complications were quick to show themselves. Did she regret her decision? Not one bit.
It did take some getting used to though. The first 'issue' to reveal itself had been the fact that human hatchlings couldn't control where they… Ah… Relieved themselves. Dragon hatchlings were at least crawling within the first few hours of hatching, so it never took too long to train them to use certain areas of the cave. But human hatchlings simply went wherever and whenever the need arose. This had led to several interesting messes and incidents.
She remembered seeing human females carrying their hatchlings with them everywhere. At the time she didn't pay much mind to it, but now felt much respect for them. Imagine if one those 'incidents' occurred in the middle of food gathering, or while speaking to an elder!
Those poor females.
The next 'issue' that came up was decidedly not as messy. She needed to feed the hatchling, and regurgitated fish despite their softness simply were to much for his underdeveloped stomach. She had guessed that, anyway. He refused to even open his mouth for it. Her eldest son Ventus had tried to help, gobbling down his portion and telling his younger brother how tasty and good it was. Unfortunately Saltus refused to see his argument.
She knew humans were mammals, and mammals fed on their mothers milk in their infancy. This presented a problem, as she was quite reptilian and lacked lactation. So with a quick explanation to Ventus that his little brother couldn't eat fish or meat, she left the cave for a speedy 'hunt' on a neighboring island. She didn't dare steel one of the humans sheep; though the thought had occurred to her. Instead she hunted on an island with no population other than animals.
There were many mammals on the island, but she had one specific type in mind. A wolf. She knew a predator would seem like an odd choice, but in her travels she once heard a legend of two human brothers who had been suckled by a she-wolf. It had happened once, why not again? Besides, deer were far too skittish. She had spent a good few hours searching, as she had to be sure the she-wolf was of milk giving age. Not having any current litters would be a definite blessing as well.
Finally the Great Celestial smiled on her efforts, and she found the perfect candidate. She could tell by the she-wolf's scent that she was still producing milk. Oddly though, she also seemed to have an air of mourning around her. Umbra could only guess that she had lost a litter recently. She felt pity for the beast, and hoped that perhaps by giving milk to her hatchling the she-wolf would gain some peace.
Of course when she swooped down and plucked her of the ground, the she-wolf raised quite a fuss. Understandable, as far as the animal knew she was about to be the dinner of a higher being. So in order to calm the thrashing beast, Umbra tried to exude as much peaceful energy as possible. In a little time, the she-wolf relaxed.
Upon arriving back at the cave, Umbra was greeted by quite the sight: Ventus with clumps of fish in his claws, and Saltus nearly covered head to foot in it. Apparently, her eldest misunderstood what she had meant by 'couldn't eat', and tried to teach his younger brother how he was supposed to do it. As she placed the she-wolf down Ventus bounced up to her and began to tell her what a good teacher he was, and that the lesson went really really well!
She sighed, and padded over to Saltus to get a clearer look at the mess. Oh my, somehow fish had even managed to get caught in his hair… She settled down on the floor, told Ventus to clean his paws, and began to gently wash Saltus. After a few moments of licking, it occurred to her that she had forgotten the she-wolf, and when she glanced up to see if she was still there was shocked to see that not only was the mammal still there, she was watching them with a light in her eyes that only could be described as amusement.
When she had finished washing her youngest her ears picked up on the slight rumbling in his belly. She glanced at the she-wolf, if only there was some way to communicate… How could she get her to allow Saltus to drink her milk?
Her internal question was answered when the she-wolf almost seemed to nod to her, padded over to Saltus, laid down, and began to gently push him towards her belly. At first the hatchling resisted, but then sensed warmth and possibly smelt the milk, and began to suckle greedily. Needless to say, Umbra was dumbstruck.
Saltus was learning to speak quite nicely. At least, Umbra thought so. Of course his first word had been 'Mama', 'Ventus' had been next, and 'Yeva' had been soon to follow. ('Yeva' being the name she'd given the she-wolf, for the life milk she gave her son.) He even started to form rudimentary sentences. She had been rather surprised how easily the dragonic tongue was coming to him. But perhaps she should not have been, hatchlings did learn from observing. For some strange reason though, he seemed particularly fond of the word 'why'.
He had begun crawling as well. Which was good, soon they could put an end to the 'natural functions' issue. But then on the other paw, it also presented a whole new 'issue'. Saltus had an inquisitive nature, apparently, and loved to explore anywhere his little paws could take him. Including straight to the entrance of their home, which was a good seven wing-flaps from the ground. Fortunately either herself or Yeva always caught him in time. Even when she had to hunt or go on those wretched raids, she could trust that her hatchlings were safe. Yeva had turned out to be quite a good nanny. Many times she returned to find Yeva keening to them some lupine song, and they were usually trying to mimic her.
She had never really thought of wolves anything other than animals, predators only slightly more intelligent than their prey. This proved her wrong, and she came to realize that that was probably how humans viewed her kind, but were just as wrong as she was about the wolves. Funny thing.
Umbra was beginning to grow concerned. Saltus had reached his third year, and still he was crawling. She supposed it was because he was constantly around four legged beings, having no other example to follow he simply imitated what he saw. But she knew humans walked on two legs, and while she didn't know for certain when they began walking, she could guess that if he continued crawling it could do damage to his limbs or spine.
So she tried to coax him into standing as a human would, using her tail to keep him straight. At first he'd been a little resistant, but as his body began to recognize it's natural position he became more cooperative; even eager. He tried walking on his own and fell many times, Ventus often reacted more dramatically to the tumbles than Saltus himself. Yeva would allow him to grab her fur to balance himself, but other than that he actually began to refuse help. He seemed to want to conquer this on his own. And he did.
Slowly but surely his legs gained the necessary strength and control, and he walked on his own. He was still wobbly for a few days, but he was walking. You could practically feel the innocent pride just beaming off of him. It brought her great joy. Unfortunately, with the advent of walking came the discovery of running.
Great Celestial, have mercy.
Umbra was very happy with how well her secret adoption of Saltus had been going, four years and no one suspected anything. While she felt most of her kind wouldn't react too badly to her human son, she knew there would be those who would be none to pleased with a human so close by. But they didn't really cause her any concern. She could easily defeat an average dragon. Now if the queen were to ever find out, that was a thought that chilled her.
"Umbra!" a voice suddenly called from outside. That was odd, she knew the moon was still high. Most would be asleep right now…
She went to the caves entrance, and found the one calling was Gamble. A Monstrous Nightmare and one of the queen's highest guards. Also a close personal friend.
"Yes?" she asked. "What is it?"
"The Queen has summoned you."
"What?" What reason would the queen have to call for her? Could she have learned of… No! Great Celestial don't let it be that. She tried not to let her trepidation show. "Why? I have done no wrong."
"She would not say." He sighed solemnly. "Only that she needed to speak with you. Now."
"Can it not wait until morning?"
He shook his head.
"Very well," she sighed. With a quick silent prayer she cast what she hoped was a subtle glance into the cave, jumped into the air and headed for the queen's chamber.
She didn't know it, but Gamble had noticed her fear, and the way she glanced back into her cave. He wondered if Umbra knew more about why she had been summoned than she let on. He took a sniff of the air; and was shocked to discover a distinctly human scent. Though he did not like to snoop into other dragon's business, especially uninvited, he could not help himself. He had been worried about her increasingly secretive behavior.
He quietly stepped into the cave, looking for the source of the scent. And when he found it, he nearly collapsed. There curled up with a dragon hatchling, was a human child. When had Umbra acquired it? How had she? He truly hoped she had not kidnapped it from the human village they raided, if other dragons followed this example, the humans retaliation would be unspeakable.
This had to be the reason the queen had summoned her, there was no doubt. He feared for Umbra, and her hatchilng, even the human child. The queen was unforgiving, and her judgment swift, if she was angered…
"Oh, Umbra…" He whispered to the shadows. "You have doomed yourself."
Umbra steeled herself as the entrance to the queen's chamber came into view, molten orange light and heat poring out of it. It might be considered odd by others species, but Umbra never liked going in there. In fact, most dragons didn't. Yes, dragon skin was fire proof, but lave wasn't like fire. It was a… liquid flame. While fire just rolled around your body, lava would stick to it. Even if it didn't usually bring immediate harm, it caused great agony. Needless to say, being in a molten pit was quite disconcerting.
She landed as softly as possible, trying not to make too much noise. She hoped that perhaps she could gain a little more time to gather her thoughts, and possibly a few good lies.
"You have finally come Umbra!" The queen's voice bellowed from the hole. "Enter! We must speak!"
Why couldn't the queen have gone deaf in her ancient age?
She stepped into the entrance, and instantly the queen's scent assaulted her: Rotting flesh and brimstone. Umbra fought to control her body's trembling, she would not show weakness in front of her. Though she hated to admit it, the queen did exude an aura of absolute power, an unquestionable force that could crush you right out of existence. There was a part of her that was utterly terrified. Especially now that she had so much to lose.
The corridor ended and she stepped into the chamber. The only word that properly described it was oppressive. Nothing but magma and hundreds of openings that lead to various areas of the island. It could have been easily compared to a bee hive, except that bee hives tended to be filled with far more pleasant things.
"Step forward." the queen ordered. She did so until the queen told her to stop. When she did Umbra found herself uncomfortably close to the edge. And there she waited, for a long time. Impatience began to get the better of her, she peered over the ledge.
Suddenly a huge mass of lava sprang forth! Little globs of white hot rock rained down around her, but she did not run. No, she had seen this display before. She watched as the lava slid off the gigantic from, slowly revealing the beast underneath. The queen.
Six sickly green eyes stared down at her, every one of them shining of the vile mind underneath. The stare made her feel as though slime had been pored on her.
She gave a low bow. "Matriarch," the bile started rising.
"Umbra," The queen nodded. "Tell me, do you have any idea why I summoned you?"
"Oh, I think you do." She lowered her head to Umbra's eye level. "You've been keeping secrets, little Night Fury."
Her heart beat picked up. "I don't know what you mean…"
The queen's eyes narrowed. "Don't you dare try to play me as a fool. Your scent is infected with a human's, and not their blood. You've been keeping a human."
Panic began to set in, she tried to think of an excuse. "Matriarch, there is a perfectly good-"
"CONTINUE TO SHOW THIS INSOLENCE AND I WILL DEVOUR YOU! I AM NO IDIOT UMBRA! Nothing, nothing, happens on this island without me knowing about it. Now, the truth!"
Umbra hung her head in defeat, she knew there was no point now. "Yes, I have adopted a human hatchling."
"And where did you acquire it? During a raid?"
"No! I would never kidnap! I found him on our beaches."
"On our island?" The queen was visibly taken aback. "Were there others?"
"No, he was alone. There were no signs of a wreck either."
The queen seemed to ponder a moment. "Strange. If it were not for the fact that they cannot find our island, I would think he was intended as a sacrifice."
Umbra found that thought downright horrifying. Surely humans didn't do that anymore. But perhaps if they became too desperate… She shivered.
"In any case," The queen's voice brought her back to the moment. "It must be decided what is to be done with the hatchling."
"Please, do not devour him!" Desperation was starting to seep in. "He has been learning our ways so well!"
The queen smiled warmly at her. "Dear Umbra, I have no intention of harming the hatchling."
Did she hear that correctly? "You… You don't?"
"No, in fact I intend for you to keep him."
To say Umbra was dumbstruck would have been an understatement. She stood there in shocked silence. Not that she wasn't relieved, but as she recomposed her self, she realized that it would be foolish to assume that all this was simply an act of mercy. There had to be something else to it.
"Not to sound ungrateful, Matriarch, but why are you allowing this?"
"Because, I can see future… Uses, for the boy." A slight shiver crawled down Umbra's spine. "And you have already been raising him for four years now, correct? I see no sense in taking him away from you. Now before I dismiss you, I must ask you something."
"Have you performed The Blood Giving yet?"
"No… I have not. I must admit I am hesitant to do it at all."
"You do realize your adoption will not be complete or even recognized until you do?"
"Yes, but I am fearful of cutting too deep. Human skin is so easily punctured."
The queen regarded her a moment. "I will not order you to do it. But I suggest that you do it before he is socialized. Otherwise, well, he just might play the role of sacrifice after all. You understand?"
"I do, Matriarch."
"Good, you may go."
Umbra turned to leave, her head flooding with questions of the future. Though she was glad the queen hadn't demanded his death, she was now fearful of what lie in wait for her youngest child. What uses the queen could possibly have for him…
"Oh Umbra," The queen called, stopping her before she fully crossed the threshold. She turned to look at her.
The queen smirked. "Your sons are both horribly off key. Please tell their nanny to instruct them better."