“Up there,” Austere exclaimed as she tilted her wings toward her clan’s home.
Zodic shifted the weight of the stag hindquarter in his paws. He dug his claws in to make sure he didn’t drop it. The view before him was amazing. The ice wrapped around the mountain like a flowing blanket. It glistened and sparkled like polished stone in the late morning sun. Within the folds of the ice were pockets where Zodic could see white dragons tucked away in their nests of furs, some singularly, some couples and many families.
As they approached, the dragons rose from their nest sites like an excited flock of cliff dwelling birds. The air was full of Frost dragons sailing and drifting lazily on the updrafts off the mountain face the ice climbed upon. But, Zodic noted there were no alarm calls, no warning or threatening roars, only an attentiveness to the Furry that was approaching their lair. All of a sudden he felt very out of place in what he had always thought was a beautiful coat of black.
“This way,” Austere called and began to ascend the ice covered ridge.
Zodic could see she was leading him to an ice shelf about mid-way up the mountain slope. He caught the updraft off the mountain beneath his wings. The lift was refreshing and gave him assistance with his heavy load.
Austere circled to one side and came in from the upwind side of the ledge.
Zodic saw her extend her claws. They bit into the ice on the ledge making a screeching sound as she came to an abrupt halt. She was already unbuckling her basket carrier and other dragons were coming out of what appeared to be the main entrance to the lair as still others landed behind him. He realized with a lump in his throat that they didn’t need to roar a protest or warning call, there were so many of them he would never be able to overpower them if there was a need for escape.
His landing was not graceful with a hunk of meat almost as big as he was, but he did plant his paws firmly and did not make a spectacle of himself by sliding across the ice like little Nilick at home. He had just put his burden down when a female perhaps twice Austere’s size emerged from the wedge shaped opening in the ice covered cliff just off the ledge. She bore many battle scars not the least of which ran across her face from under her right eye, over her muzzle and stopped at a deep impression on her left cheek. Her right horn had been broken off and only a nub remained. Her right wing was tattered and Zodic imagined it took a lot of energy to compensate for balancing when she flew, if she flew.
“I am Patel, leader of the Frost clan,” the female introduced herself as the others gathered around.
“Patel, this is Zodic of the Furry clan,” Austere said, as she extended a paw and bowed to her matriarch.
Zodic did the same saying, “I am honored to meet you.”
“What brings you among us?” Patel asked, as she studied the unusual Furry with counter balanced eyes of blue and bronze.
“A delivery,” Zodic announced with a toothy grin, trying to lighten the mood. He pawed at the hindquarter large enough to feed a passel of pups.
“So I see,” Patel nodded her rounded head in acceptance. “We are indeed grateful. Please come in. Make yourself at home,” she offered and extended a wing in invitation.
Austere nuzzled Zodic’s neck reassuringly. “Come on. I will introduce you to mother.”
Zodic followed Austere into the main entrance as two other females fell in closely behind him. The rest of the clan seemed to dissipate either taking wing once again or staying on the ledge to tend to the provisions they had delivered.
“Austere?” one of the females behind him called. “Introduce us to your friend,” she said.
Austere halted and turned back toward them. “Zodic these are two of my older sisters, Mohit and Nara.”
Mohit was the one who asked for the introduction. She bowed reverently and gazed at him through liquid blue eyes. “I am pleased to meet you. I have never had the honor of meeting a Furry before.”
Nara spoke up. “None of us has,” she assured him. “We are told to avoid you all if we come across you or even your scent during the hunt.” She was white too, but smaller than Austere with deep brown eyes and lovely long white whiskers that curled under her chin.
“Patel says your leader would not take kindly to us interfering with your activities. She says we are to respect your isolationism, but it seems odd to many of us,” Mohit explained.
Austere leaned gently against Zodic’s side and placed her wing possessively over his shoulders even though it was a bit of a stretch because she was at least two feet shorter than him.
“Zodic is not of the same mind as his father,” Austere said.
“Your father is Tallideer?” Mohit asked.
“Did you tell Patel he was the son of Tallideer?” Nara asked almost over the top of her sister’s question.
“I did not, but I shall,” Austere chirped defiantly. “Come Zodic I will introduce you to mother first. She will want to know I have returned.”
Austere steered him away from her two sisters as they stood with mouths gaping in disbelief.
Everyone greeted Austere as they passed down the long ice coated tunnel. Many acted as though they would liked to have been introduced to the Furry dragon in their midst. Austere greeted them in return, but hurried on. She wanted to see her mother first.
“We’ll find her in the nursery,” Austere told Zodic. “She can’t seem to get enough of the pups. I was the last of fifteen for her. She still treats me like a youngling even though I could have a burrow of my own. My father died recently and I don’t think it is good to leave her just yet,” she explained.
Zodic noticed a pair of dragons sitting on their haunches facing the wall at the corner where the tunnel met the huge lair dome they were just passing into.
“Did they do something wrong to have to sit in the corner?” Zodic asked skeptically.
“Oh no,” Austere said and steering him toward the two. “They are doing repairs. I’ll show you.”
They walked up to the two and Austere introduced him. “Bale, Talbow, this is Zodic of the Furry Clan.”
The two turned from their work to greet the new comer with a gentle head bump. Both were elder dragons perhaps the generation right after his father’s.
“Zodic was wondering what you were doing. Can you show him?” Austere asked.
“Sure,” Bale answered. He was a large male. He had the same white coat all the Frosties were, but his eyes were almost obsidian black in color. “We’re repairing a crack.”
“There are two teams assigned each day to examine the halls and the dome for any cracks or fissures,” Talbow explained. He had blue eyes the shade of the blue flowers that bloomed in the meadow below the Furry’s mountain in the spring. Blue seemed to be the dominate color for eyes in the clan.
Bale placed his paw beside a crack that ran from the floor up to just above his head. He took in a deep breath and exhaled forcefully starting at the top and following it down to the floor. As he breathed upon the opening it filled with frost. Talbow leaned over him, being the bigger dragon of the two, and followed his partner’s breath with another and the crack ceased to exist. It was now a solid sheet of ice.
Zodic leaned forward to get a better look. “We are told when we are pups that you Frosties can freeze with your breath, but we younglings never could envision it. Not as helpful in a battle as fire, but a neat trick for repair.”
Talbow spun quickly about and aiming at Zodic’s paws shot out a concentrated breath. The quick movement of the dragon startled the Furry and he was going to fall back, but he found his paws were stuck to the icy floor.
“Frost can be just as effective at immobilizing a foe,” Talbow said with satisfaction and Bale joined in his chuckle at the look on Zodic’s face. “You can bend down to defrost them with your own fiery breath, but then that puts your head down and your neck vulnerable to my attack.”
Zodic could see their point. “I retract me previous statement,” he said in as friendly a voice as possible. “May I?” he indicated with a tilt of his head.
Talbow stepped back to give the Furry room to defrost his paws. Zodic gave them a warming breath then put one at a time to his mouth and licked the water from his fur.
“Neat trick,” he said to the older dragon. “Very effective.”
Talbow gave him another dragonic head bump and the two dragon repair team turned back toward their work.
“Come on,” Austere said and pushed him gently with a wing. “We’re almost to the nursery.
Zodic was laying on his back in the middle of the nursery with pups, two deep, piled on him in a playful effort to capture and hold the Furry down.
“He seems very nice,” Uland said to her daughter as they watched them play.
“He really is, mother,” Austere said with a smile. “Get him, Gollan!” she egged on one of the larger pups that had hold of Zodic’s furry tail tip.
“He’s very gentle with the pups,” Uland observed.
“He tells me they have numerous pups at home. He plays with them and helps them learn to fly when they reach flight age. His parents mated late in life and he lost his mother a while back. He has no siblings.” Austere paused just long enough to take a deep breath then let her words continue to fly. “His father, being the leader of the clan, had little time for him, so his best friend Trenic’s father and mother helped raise him. Trenic’s father taught him to fly and hunt. I guess he’s a really good male.”
Uland only had a moment to nod her head in agreement before Austere continued to praise the Furry youngling.
“Did I tell you he carried a full hindquarter from my hunting den here without a single stop to rest?”
“Yes, dear,” Uland said. “Three times so far.” She chuckled under her breath.
Her daughter was quite taken with this youngling. It both pleased her and worried her. She would need to speak with Patel as soon as possible.
“Could you and Zodic stay with the pups until I get back?” she asked. “I have to check on something.” That was very vague, but Austere was so engrossed in Zodic’s play with the pups that she didn’t even question her mother.
“Sure, we’ll wait for you here,” Austere said and gave her mother a quick wing hug before heading over to help the pups capture the big Furry.
Uland smiled and headed off to find her sister, the Matriarch of the clan.