Linant curled protectively around the six eggs she'd laid two days ago. Her lifemate, black Horlint, moved over to stand beside her. Next to the dragons, dwarfed by their size, stood their bondmates-Anlia and Piram.
"The first clutch," Anlia said, looking up at her bondmate proudly. "Horlint, you did wonderfully."
"Of course," the black responded. Sarin dragons are different from others in that they could either speak out loud or telepathically to their bondmates, although the first ability only comes when the dragon reaches child stage. They also have very small clutches.
"How many candidates do we have?"
"Eight," Piram answered offhandedly. "There're always a few left over."
"Yeah, it's a shame," said Anlia, who had been the first to Impress out of all the candidates on the sands and hadn't been left standing without a dragon, so she didn't really worry about it. "Still, they can always reapply," she added.
"True. Hey Linant, any idea what you laid?"
Of course, the gold answered loftily. But you'll have to wait and see.
"Oh right. She says she knows what she's laid."
"Uh-huh!" She waved a hand over the eggs. They were all the same pearly blue colour, like all Sarin eggs. There was always a debate going on as to whether or not the dragon knew what colour dragons were going to hatch out of them. Either way, the bondmates and certainly the candidates themselves never knew until the dragons actually hatched.
Anlia and Piram turned to see Harnal jogging over the sands towards them, closely followed by his green flit Wenra.
"You'll not be needed," Linant said haughtily. "All of my hatchlings have homes!"
Harnal, who took care of the abandoned dragons, simply grinned.
"I hope that's true, Linant," he said sincerely. "I really do."
The blast of cool air across their faces announced the arrival of Chrysiath with Althne. Althne was responsible for noting down the records of the Impressed dragons and their bondmates.
"I hope I'm not too late," she said. Chrysiath hovered a good few metres away from the eggs; being a Kellarian dragon, she wasn't sure how a Sarin dragon would react to another gold queen getting too close.
"Not at all," Anlia said. "In fact, we-"
A scratching sound from one of the eggs cut her short and she spun round.
"Horlint! Get Alori! Get Narvint and Arint and any Sarin dragon that can fly! We need the candidates!"
"It's done," the black responded. Although he seemed calm, Anlia could sense his tension and anticipation.
The loud call of Arint announced the arrival of four candidates, whilst Narvint's slightly higher scream heralded the others.
"Get them onto the sands!" Anlia yelled.
"Calm down!" Arint said, wheeling effortlessly and landing silently on the ground. He crouched so his candidates could dismount. Narvint, who was slightly less considerate, simply plonked himself on the ground and dropped, almost knocking off a small candidate with hazel eyes and a mane of auburn hair.
"Narvint, can't you be more careful?!" Anlia said sharply. "Are you okay, Sue?" she asked. The candidate nodded.
"Yes, he just took me by surprise. Uh, where do I stand?"
"Somewhere close to the eggs," Piram said. "The same for the rest of you, as well," he added, seeing that question on the rest of the candidates' lips.
Another candidate moved over to stand beside Sue, anticipation lightening her movements. Trinity Day took up a position close but not too close to the smaller candidate. There were other candidates too-Amy, Roman, Melanie, Nimera, Asalri, who lived in Rilar Glade, and Heather.
The scratching grew louder and suddenly a green claw pierced the shell. A strange screeching wail emitted from inside, and the egg suddenly fell over. Sue stepped forward to right it again and suddenly found herself lost in a draconic wave of hunger.
My name is Sharint and I know you're nervous-but I really can't get out of this egg so if you could see your way to helping me, I'd be grateful because my stomach is so empty!
"SHARINT!" Sue's cry startled everyone on the sands. She immediately knelt and pulled fragments of the egg away from the green male. Sharint finally emerged on his back, wriggling his small body trying to get upright again. Gently, Sue reached down and helped him. He gazed up at her with adoring eyes and the two of them made their way off the sands.
Two more eggs were rocking alarmingly. Heather, never one to waste time, moved over to the closest one and stood, hands on hips, waiting. She was very young for a candidate-only eight years old-but given the fact that she lived in the same place and wasn't a newcomer, Linant had suggested her for candidacy.
The other egg cracked first, exposing a purple snout. The hatchling wriggled out of its shell, looked around him, and let out a pitying keen.
Anlia felt her heart stop.
Not this. Anything but this.
The hatchling, Urant, continued to wail, rejecting all of the candidates that approached it. Above her head, Anlia heard Linant add her own plea to this.
Both looked round. Heather's egg had hatched and the young brown dragon in it had butted her imperiously, determined to get her attention.
Come on, are we going to eat or what?
Harnal chuckled quietly, lifting the mood.
"I'd say those two are well suited to each other," he said, watching Heather and Orulnt make their way out of the sands after Sue and Sharint.
The other three eggs suddenly cracked at the same time. One green female and two reds, one male and one female, spilled from their shells onto the sand. Green Hemant and her sister, Volant, immediately added their voices to Urant's, making the sands an increasingly uncomfortable place to be.
The red male, however, knew exactly who he wanted and made straight for Amy but changed direction at the last minute and shoved against Trinity Day.
"Cirent, now that was cruel," his new bondmate said reproachfully. "You really got her hopes up there!"
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. Is there any food anywhere?
Grinning, Trinity Day took Cirent to his new home. There were already plenty of other dragons; the red wouldn't be lonely. I guess what Anlia said was true, she thought as she left the sands. All these hatchlings DO have nothing else on their mind except food!
The rejected candidates turned away sadly. There was nothing any of them could do to make the three unbonded accept them. With a stony look, Harnal began moving the three eggs to their new homes.
Two months later…
Harnal looked up at the young girl that had entered the egg room.
"Hi," she said. "My name's Saylir and I was wondering if there was any chance of bonding with an abandoned…?"
Harnal gave a mock sigh and extended one arm, inviting her into the room.
"You're welcome to try. I've had several candidates in here and not one of them's been-"
The cessation of wails, or one particular wail, cut him short. Saylir was standing next to Volant, rubbing her around her horns.
"Are you hungry? C'mon, let's go find something to eat."
She led the young hatchling out without a backwards glance at Harnal.
"Don’t forget to tell Althne!" he called after her. Then he picked up a pail of meat and went to feed the two remaining dragons.
One week later…
Harnal glanced around at another hopeful candidate. For a moment their features didn't register, then his mind nearly blew up.
"I'd like to try and bond with an abandoned, if I may…? My name's Starbryre."
Harnal's vocal chords produced something that sounded like *glnk* before he got them under control.
"I…yes, of course. By all means."
The candidate padded softly towards the nest, and Hemant's cries ceased abruptly. Looking down the room, Harnal could see the little hatchling nuzzling against the candidate.
"Come on, dear, let's go home."
Hemant gurgled happily and the two bondmates left.
"Althne…?" said Harnal weakly.
"Yes?" Althne stepped neatly into the room.
"I couldn't help noticing…Starbryre?" "Oh, yes. From Liquid Mercury Castle. We had a chat about various medicinal herbs to cure colds and suchlike. Why do you ask?" "Well…I couldn't help noticing…not that it matters of course, if the dragon chooses a candidate it doesn't matter about colour or beliefs or race." Harnal rested his head in his hands. "There's just one little thing though, Althne. How long have we allowed gryphons to be candidates?"
Three weeks later…
Harnal turned to face the candidate. She was fairly small with shoulder length black hair curled under at the shoulders, with vivid blue streaks in it. He was exhausted now, he didn't mind admitting it. Urant was getting to be a real trial, howling nearly louder than all three of the abandoneds put together.
"My name's Adrianne, and I heard there was an abandoned dragon here?"
"Over there," Harnal said. He was too tired to bother with the formalities.
"I'll...just take a look, then," Adrianne said. She stepped down slightly nervously-although a lot more bravely than some candidates Harnal had seen.
Urant's wails didn't cease-but they did get a lot quieter all of a sudden.
"Urant!" Adrianne picked up the hatchling like a human child and carried him down the passage, past Harnal, who sighed with relief that he could finally take a break without having to worry about a squealing hatchling.