The final emu-sized egg in the Birthing Bowl should not have been so cool. I held it in my hand, praying for the creature inside to still be alive. Seething with anger I turned to the mother. It’s not easy confronting a dragon.
‘Turn the heat back on.’
Her head slewed from side to side in an obvious ‘no’. Her words, like rocks slowly sliding down a hill, formed in my mind. It’s my clutch. I can do with them as I please. It’s a runt. An abomination.
‘What difference does it make to you? You know you’ll be dead long before this hatchling reaches maturity.’
Later I would be ashamed for the way I matched cruelty with cruelty.
Hugging the egg to my chest in the hope of adding some warmth I rushed outside to the thermal pool. A storm had recently raged up the Valley of Dragons denuding many of the shallow rooting shrubs that clung to the cliffs. I searched the ground frantically for an appropriate branch. There! The egg was hard enough not to be pierced by the basket of interwoven branches I wedged it into. I judged I had three hours until the next round of feeding began. Three hours to get this egg hot enough to survive the night nestled between my clothes and my tummy. The sun was setting when the familiar cries of hungry dragonets ushered me back inside the dragon’s lair.
You are wasting your time. I will be dead before sunrise. The ritual will be incomplete.
‘Don’t you dare die on me! How do you know that this egg doesn’t house your Conservator, the one your people have been waiting hundreds of years for?’
I tucked it under my clothes; secure and warm against my chest.
‘Size shouldn’t matter. This little egg should be given a chance to live. Has it ever occurred to you that your race is dying out because you’ve been choosing who shall and shall not live? Maybe, when you’ve been destroying ‘abominations’ generation after generation, you’ve been destroying your Conservator.’
Satiated, the sixteen young dragons flopped onto the sand and slept.
My anger evaporated. ‘You are the last adult dragon and this egg is the last opportunity to birth a Conservator Please, hang on to life. Perform the ritual. Prove me wrong.’
I determined to catch some sleep before the next feed. A sound, regular as the ticking of a clock woke me. Only there were no clocks in the dragon’s lair. It came from the egg nestled at my chest. I knew what to expect. I’d witnessed it sixteen times in the last three weeks. The emerging dragon would tap at the egg with the spur on the end of its snout. When it had made a hole big enough to thrust the spur through it would twist the spur and the two halves of the egg would fall apart.
I retrieved a large shell-full of meat and settled outside in the moonlight and, with the egg on my lap, waited for the spur to appear.
The tapping stopped.
It is too weak. It is dying. Let it die. Only the fittest should survive.
I used the moonlight to inspect the egg. A tiny bulge indicated where the chick had been working on the shell. I flicked open my utility knife and carefully dug away at the same spot. ‘Hang on in there little fella. Don’t give up yet, OK?’
The sharp blade finally slipped through the hole, but no spur appeared. I put the egg to my mouth and breathed air into it before digging at the shell and wedging another, flatter, blade into the hole. One twist and the two egg halves fell to the ground revealing a glittering jewel-like dragonet. In one swift movement I placed it before the ancient dragon.
‘The ritual. Pass on the knowledge, now.’
She reared her head. Heart beating I held my ground.
‘What harm can it do?’
She lowered her head. A cloud of smoke enveloped her youngest, hanging there longer than it had for any of the other hatchlings. When it dissipated the baby unfurled its wings, hopped onto its mother’s snout and, wings outstretched, bowed.
The adult dragon closed its eyes. Conservator, I am sorry. Our pride, my pride, almost caused our downfall. All is not lost. Thank you, Shannon, dragon friend. True nurse. Reviver of my people. Good bye.’
I rubbed her nose as she breathed her last breath. ‘Farwell, friend.’
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