This is a work of short fiction by Alanea Alder- it is unedited and under copyright 2019
Grimm looked down at the tiny face staring up at him. All he had wanted, was to slip away for a bit, and maybe take a nap.
He stared at the small human. His mate was going to lose her mind. Unlike most of their species they had been blessed with a hatchling not ten winters ago and to the entire clan’s shock, they had just welcomed a new youngling the day before last, his mate’s maternal instincts were flying high.
He unwound his body and stood his full height.
“Are you going to eat us?” The girl-child asked timorously.
He scowled down at her. “You could fit between my teeth, how much sustenance do you think you could provide?”
She frowned. “So, that’s a no right?”
He blinked and fought not to chuckle. None of the humans he had met had shown such fearlessness.
“We’ll see,” he grumbled. “What are you called?”
“Kiera,” she replied, hoisting the hatchling up on her shoulder.
He looked around the clearing at the base of the mountain range where his clan made their home. Normally the humans dropped off a female as tribute, never a child, much less two of them.
“The small one, when did he hatch?” he asked curiously.
“Aedan? He was born the day before yesterday,” her bottom lip quivered. “That was when Momma died.”
“Why were you brought here?”
“Winter is coming and our chieftain said we’d be useless and not worth the food to keep us alive. His daughter had been chosen to come as tribute, but he convinced the elders that we’d do instead.”
Grimm sighed. They should have put an end to the whole tribute nonsense centuries ago, but it kept the humans in line and out of their mountains. Every fifty winters they’d fly some unlucky human female chosen as tribute to the neighboring lands of Jerdan and leave her there to live out her life. He could hardly do that with these two.
He reached forward with his claw and gently encircled the girl-child. “I am going to fly to my den. Hold on tight to the hatchling.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
At least she’s polite.
He extended his wings and with a single push downward, they were airborne. He flew directly to the large ledge that led down into the dragon city. He landed and set his cargo down carefully.
“Grimm, what by the First Egg do you have there?” the large green dragon who stood watch asked, astonishment in his voice.
“This cycle’s tribute,” he answered.
The guard blinked. “I could have sworn you said these tiny things were our tribute.”
Grimm looked at the guard with a sour expression. “Get your ears cleaned Kilar, because that is exactly what I said.”
“Mynare is going to flame the royal chambers if you bring those two below.”
Grimm fought the urge to roll his eyes. Kilar was right. Mynare, their current King was a pompous elitist. He smiled slyly. “Can you send Heraian to my den, to visit my mate?” he asked.
Kilar chuckled. “You don’t fight fair.” He turned to face the back of the tunnel. “Hey Blaze, come here. Relieve me for a bit.”
A smaller red dragon walked forward. “Sure Kil.” He stopped, staring down. He tilted his triangular head. “What’s that?”
Kilar pointed. “Hatchling humans.”
Blaze leaned down until he was nearly eye level with the older hatchling. “They sure are small aren’t they?”
The girl-child inched closer to Grimm and he felt a strange sense of protectiveness. They were very tiny.
“Don’t scare them Blaze,” he admonished.
Blaze sat back up quickly. “Sorry, I guess that would be scary.”
Kilar started down the tunnel. “You may have an hour, at most, before word of their arrival reaches Mynare, so work quickly.”
Grimm nodded and picked up the hatchlings again, this time gently setting them down on his snout. They’d move quicker if his legs did the walking.
As luck would have it, he didn’t encounter anyone else on the way to his den. When he walked in he could hear Flame begging his mother to play with his new brother Sky.
“Flame, he’s only just hatched, it will be a while yet before he can play with you.”
“Can I look at him then?”
He heard his mate’s soft laugh. “Of course you can.”
He walked into their great room and set the human hatchlings down. He knew his mate had spotted them when he heard a quick inhale.
“Grimm, are those human hatchlings?”
“Yes, evidently they are this cycle’s tribute.”
She gasped. “But we can’t leave them on their own in Jerdan.”
“Mynare will never allow it.”
“And yet, you brought them here?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “What else was I supposed to do?”
“Can you play?” Flame asked the girl-child.
She shook her head. “I hafta watch over my baby brother. He just got born day before yesterday.”
Flame’s eyes lit up. “I have a hatchling brother too! Maybe you can put him next to Sky and mother can watch over him.”
The girl looked up at him. “Should I?”
“For now,” he replied.
The girl and Flame walked over to the corner where the tiny hatchling Sky blinked and took in his surroundings. Grimm had chosen this cave specifically for that corner. It formed a large pocket and on either side he had built up great hearths. It had kept their egg protected and warm.
He watched as the girl-child set her brother down next to Sky. As a hatchling Sky was as big as the girl. Flame was the size of large, fully grown human and stood over all three.
Sky trilled happily and curled around the tiny pink hatchling. Grimm watched and knew the second his mate’s heart melted.
She turned to him. “We have to keep them safe.”
He just nodded as he heard footsteps behind him.
“Grimm, Kilar said that Lynara desired company,” a female voice called out.
“Yes, Heraian, do come in,” he said in welcome.
His mate’s eyes widened and she hid a smile. Her quick mind was only one of the reasons he had fought for the right to court her as his mate. That and she was exceptionally beautiful both inside and out.
Heraian walked past him to where Lynara sat watching the hatchlings. She spied the humans and stopped abruptly. She swung her head around to face him. “Humans? Here?” she demanded.
Lynara answered quickly. “Yes, can you believe the humans left hatchlings for tribute? Look at them Hera, they could have froze to death if not for my Grimm.”
Heraian seemed to fight her instincts before looking down at the hatchlings. Her eyes grew wide. “The small one, did it just hatch?”
“Yes! What were those humans thinking sending a newly hatched baby into the forest, in the dead of winter?”
Heraian’s stern gaze softened. “Where is their mother?”
Lynara looked to the girl who stepped forward. “Momma died having Aedan.”
Heraian looked shocked. “Humans can die from having younglings?”
The girl sniffled. “Yes.”
“You have no one?” Heraian asked, her voice much softer.
The girl shook her head. “Papa got kilt this summer in an accident. Our chieftain said we should be tribute so his daughter didn’t hafta come.”
“He knowingly sent them to die,” he murmured.
“That’s despicable. Hatchlings should be protected at all costs,” Heraian growled.
“If we drop them off in Jerdan, we’d also be sentencing them to death,” he said in a low voice.
Heraian eyed him. “Visit Lynara, huh?” She looked down. “I don’t suppose this sudden desire for a visit had anything to do with those two?”
“Would you send them out to die? Humans don’t live that long, it’s not like they’d stay here forever, just until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Then we can fly them to Jerdan just like the other tributes,” he explained.
“No, I would not send them to die.” She heaved a great sigh. “Mynare will be an absolute beast over this.”
“Then it’s a good thing he has such a kind and lovely mate to help him,” Lynara added.
“What would they need?” Heraian asked sensibly.
They all turned to look at the girl. “I’ll need some milk for Aedan, scraps of food would work for me. Maybe a bit of cloth over the years so I can make us clothes.” She straightened and looked at them, determination on her small face. “I can work to earn our keep.”
The girl’s statement had admiration burning in Heraian’s eyes. “What are you called and how many winters have you?”
“Kiera and I have six winters.”
They all stared. Grimm knew that the two other females had assumed she was older.
“She’s younger than Flame,” Lynara whispered, her eyes filling. She turned to Heraian. “What if Flame had to take care of his brother all alone.” Her voice trailed off, before she began to weep.
He moved past Heraian and curled around his mate offering her comfort. “Shush darling, we are well and our hatchlings are warm and safe.”
“I will speak to Mynare on their behalf,” Heraian said, before turning to walk down the hall.
“Thank you Heraian, I am sorry for the trickery,” he called out.
When she swung her head around to look at him there was laughter in her eyes. “It’s part of your charm,” she said, before walking away.
“Do we get to stay?” Kiera whispered.
His mate sniffed once, before nodding. “I believe so. Mynare may be our king, but he knows better than to rile his mate.”
Grimm was about to comment when the tiny pink hatchling began to cry. Flame trilled soothingly trying to calm his nestmate.
Lynara looked to him. “Where are we going to find milk?”
Grimm just sighed as he realized he now had four hatchlings to watch over. He’d never get a nap now.