|A rock fell to the ground next to Shay with a thud making him jump. He frowned up at Pally, his little red dragon, sitting on the top of the boulder he was leaning against. Pally crooned at him.
“Stop it,” warned Shay. “It’s not play time.” Shay turned his attention back to the book.
Pally’s claws clicked on the boulder as she ran across the top and jumped down into the long grass.
Shay tried not to laugh, as he watched her struggled over the long grass toward him. Her leathery wings flapping uselessly.
When she was close enough, Pally reached out one scaly foot, grabbed hold of Shay’s tunic sleeve, and pulled herself up onto his forearm. Sitting up on her back legs she wrapped her long, sinewy tail around his wrist for balance and she pulled at the book with her front feet.
“Pally don’t,” said Shay, trying to wrestle the book away from her. “Let go.” Despite her diminished size Pally was exceedingly strong, and pig headed.
A deep, rumbling bellow high above made Shay look up. His breath caught at the site of the enormous black dragon passing overhead. Closing the book, Shay stood, and moved out from under the shade of the tree he’d been sitting under.
Pally scrambled up to his shoulder. She stood on her back feet and steadied herself by grasping clumps of hair on the top of his head.
When the black dragon bellowed again, Pally flapped her wings excitedly. The black dragon swung it massive head round and looked down at them. It snorted in amusement, causing smoke spiralled from it nostrils.
“Hey, hey, hey,” said Shay, grabbing hold of her before she pulled his hair out. “That hurts.”
The black dragon moved on and Pally scrambled down from Shay’s shoulder and onto the ground, where she desperately tried to launch herself into the air to follow.
Shay chuckled. “You silly thing, you’re too little to fly yet.”
“Oh, leave her alone,” said Ishtar, joining them. She placed her own green dragon on the ground with Pally.
“How come Mish never gets excited?” asked Shay, as he moved back into the shade and settled himself on the ground, placing his book next to him.
Ishtar joined him. “They pick up our emotions, and maybe I’m not as impatient as you to be flying.”
“How can you not want to be up there?” he asked, aghast. He didn't understand how she could be so nonchalant about the most prized honour their people could be offered, to be a dragon keeper.
“I never said that, I just said I’m not as impatient. It’ll be another year before they’re big enough to ride, and there’s a lot we need to learn before then.” Mish flopped on to his stomach, on a bare patch of ground and extended his wings to sun himself. “It’s hard to believe there’s only a dozen fully grown dragons left,” she muttered, sadly.
The twenty-year war between the north and south islands had brought the dragons to the edge of extinction. Their plight had been the only thing that made the two governments cease their bickering and work together. A plight was made worse by the fact that a female dragon only had a clutch of five to six eggs every ten years. Pally and Mish were part of the first clutch since the wars end two years ago.
“Do you think once the dragon population is out of danger, the war will resume?” asked Ishtar.
“I shouldn’t think so,” said Shay, appalled at the thought. He watched Pally pull at Mish’s tail trying to get him up to play with her. He hated to think that Pally would ever be ridden for war.
Picking up on his emotions, Pally stopped what she was doing and blinked her large yellow eyes at Shay. She scampered over to him, and nestled herself in the hollow of his crossed legs, laying her head on his knee. She crooned softly to him.
Ishtar watched Shay rub the top of Pally’s scaly head and smiled. Fate had thrown him into this position. He hadn’t wanted to become a keeper. When she’d asked him why, he said he had lost everyone, and everything he’d ever loved during the war, and didn’t want to feel the pain of losing something he loved again.
But, on the day the hatching took place, the strangest thing happened. Arth had been given Pally to train, but as he carried her out of the hatching ground with the others, Pally suddenly twisted and squirmed in him arms until she got loose. She went scrambling off through the common square.
Dragon master Iza and Arth ran after her. Ishtar followed them, curious to see what was going on. By the time she caught up with them, Pally had a tight hold of Shay’s leg.
“I’ve never seen a baby do that before,” puffed Iza, scratching his balding head.
Ishtar stood, with Mish in her arms, and watched in amusement as they desperately tried to get Pally to let go.
After twenty minutes of struggling with the small dragon, Iza finally said, “It looks as if you’ve just become a keeper, boy.”
“No, no, no,” protested Shay, his eyes widening in alarm. “I don’t want to be a keeper.”
Iza shrugged helplessly. “She’s made her choice, and there’s going to be no changing her mind now.”
Shay was thrust unwillingly into the world of dragon keeping.
Ishttar smiled. “Pally made the right choice,” she said.
Shay sighed and looked down at his little charge. “I don’t know why she chose me,” he said. Then a smile tugged at his lips. “But I’m glad she did.”
Picking up his book, Shay continued his studies on how to look after a baby dragon.