Chapter 8

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Chapter Eight

Jaxx was awake before the sun came up. He had spent the night tossing and turning, the pain from his stinging back and his racing thoughts of Ciarran keeping him awake.

Careful not to be seen, he left the goat stable that served as his bedroom and slipped to the kitchen to snatch a boiled egg and couple of hard rolls. He did not think of it as stealing because he had not received his share of the meals the day before. Even so, he knew that if he was caught taking the food he would get the same punishment as any other thief.

Jaxx made his way to the hatching grounds, the ache in his belly finally eased by the food he had taken. By the time he arrived at the bottom of the stairs, his muscles were warm and he barely felt the bruises from last night's beating. His heart started pounding in excitement at the thought that he was about to see the dragons again. He could not wait to see Ciarran and wondered if she would remember him.

The shrieking and snarling of the dragons got louder as he got closer. One of them sounded like it was crying. Were they always this noisy?

The caretaker met him at the top of the stairway, looking at him blearily with bloodshot eyes. "Och, I forgot ye were coming," he said, "I would have saved ye the trip."

Jaxx's heart sank. Was this more punishment over the spilled stew?

"The wee one ye saved started screeching last eve and wouldn't stop. Then the others joined her," the caretaker said. "They been at it all night, keeping me up right along with 'em." He yawned widely. "We can't get any work done with them wound up like this. Ye can come back tomorrow, maybe."

Jaxx tried to swallow his disappointment. "What's wrong with them? Did the mother tell you anything?"

The caretaker gave him a peculiar look. "Whose mother?" he asked.

"Oh," Jaxx said quickly, realizing his blunder, "I meant one of the village mothers who help with the birthings. They might have some advice about dragons, too..." He trailed off. His explanation sounded weak even to his own ears. He tried to change the subject. "May I at least see them, sir?"

The caretaker studied him closely for a long moment. "Heh. Yer a peculiar one, ye are," he said. "Most the boys they send me are scared of them dragons. They take off running if the young'uns even take a step in their direction. I try to tell 'em that running just makes the beasties give chase but they don't listen." Then, misreading the expression on Jaxx's face, he added, "The dragons don't mean anything by it, of course. To them, it's just a game of catch, but we've lost more than a few slaves that way."

Jaxx did not say anything but looked at the man hopefully.

"Aight," the man said finally, shaking his head, "I don't see it doing any harm in you taking a peak. The queen is out hunting fer something to feed her brood; just be sure yer out of there before she's back. And be careful. I don't want to be cleaning up no bloody, boy-sized mess."

Jaxx gave the caretaker his biggest smile and dashed to the rope ladder before the man could change his mind. He clambered quickly down to the hatching room floor and stared across at the hatchlings. Ciarran stood alone in a corner, howling as if she was in pain while the others snapped at each other and fought.

He hoped Ciarran was not ill or damaged from all the time she had spent choking on her shell. He eyed her critically. Her color seemed better, he thought. Where the sun hit her skin she even looked like she was made of gold.

"Hey girl," Jaxx called softly, trying to get her to look his way.

Ciarran stopped mid-cry and whipped her head around to look at him. Then, with a loud screech, she ran towards him, mouth open wide, showing off her enormous teeth. When she showed no sign of slowing down, he braced himself for an attack.

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