He looked down the meadows slope to where his herd of Stegosaurus laid bathing themselves in the bright sun. The day had dawned bright and sunny on the eastern side of the Graturact mountain range, the place he had chosen for his family home.
At the ripe old age of twenty six, Xaieium Desidarious Blackthorn was as content as a farmer could be. Or as someone doing his best to pretend at being a farmer.
"Hey, be careful or you'll scatter the flock," he reached for the snout that he'd felt laid on his shoulder.
And what a snout it was. From where he sat he could barely reach with arm fully extended the top of it. He could feel the hot breath puffed out by gigantic lungs, from the two basketball sized nostrils.
This was his mount, a shining black dragon, the only one of its kind. On the entire continent of Zaiplecaes very few people knew dragons even existed outside the Kings royal guards.
With a small shake of his enormous head, Nocte sent Xaieium sparling onto his side in the thick grass.
"Hey, I know you're bored, how do you think I feel. But Aura can't ride right now and do you think Smaragdus is going to leave her?" The huge creature huffed once and again shook his head.
Xaieium was right and he knew it. With his riders wife within weeks of giving birth to their first offspring, she could not ride. So her bonded mount could not, and would not leave her in such a delicate time. Besides, Smara was most intrigued with the goings on of human reproduction as only a female could be. Aura had told his rider that Smaragdus was curious because the dragon was wondering what having children was like. Being the only female of her species, having offspring was her responsibility so she was curious, and had been studying Aura's pregnancy with great interest.
Xaieium got to his feet and gazed up at his friend. The top of his head barely came to his dragons knees. At forty feet to the top of his head Nocte was an impressive specimen of his breed. For hundreds of years the realms scientists had been trying to blend the Pterosaur's and the large sauropod, namely the Allosaurus into the best of both, a true flying dinosaurs.
Nocte was the first of those successes to hatch and live. When he was tested and proven fertile they produced a second, this time a female. With the program nearly bankrupting the realm they figured it would be better to just let nature run it's course in order to produce more. Oh how wrong they'd been on that point.
"Xaie, I need you in the house." Both man and beasts head swiveled to look out across the great expanse of grass towards where the house sat nestled in a hollow of the valley floor.
Xaieium looked over the herd of slow moving stegosaurus and ran a quick check in his head.
"You stay here and watch the flock," he patted Noctes leg scales with his hand. "Just remember, no snacks. These things are what we eat this winter. Besides they wont even scratch your appetite."
Nocte snorted and raised his head high, beginning to scan the mountain side for threats. Knowing that everything was well in hand Xaieium broke into a run for the house. Minutes later he was at the door, bursting through he saw that his wife was nowhere to be seen. Room by room he searched until he walked out the back door to find her hanging laundry on the line. Leaning against the door frame he waited until she was finished and had turned towards him.
"You know we have a drier for those, right?"
"Don't start. I'm going crazy enough not being able to ride, if I have to stay cooped up in this house much longer I'm going to explode." She threw the basket at him then stomped into the house.
A sleek green neck extended around the corner of the house, the head attached to the neck pointed it's sharp nose at him, its large emerald eyes showing curiosity as Smaragdus sniffed him.
"Yeah I was just at the steg field, Noctes up there on guard. If you want you could go up there and keep him company."
The huge green head shook a negative at him then pointed towards the door.
"Oh I know, you don't want to leave Aura, that's okay. But I'll make sure she's fine if you do want to go stretch your wings." He gave the green dragon a scratch between the nostrils then walked back into the house.
"You know that doctor said you're not supposed to pick up over fifteen pounds," he called while walking through the living room towards the laundry room.
"Don't you start with me too," his wife's voice came to him from deep within the house.
"I'm not starting with you, I just don't want anything to happen to either of you." He turned the last corner to find her trying to bend over to empty another load of clothes from out of the drier.
He quickly stifled a laugh as her efforts were non to successful. He really didn't want her to come unglued on him, again. The last time he'd brought up the size of her belly she had nearly had her dragon eat him. At the time he wasn't sure if she was kidding or not, and saw no reason to test it.
"I know," she stood, her long black hair falling past her shoulders with sweat matting it to her face and neck. "But just because I'm as big as a house doesn't mean I'm not capable of doing simple," she tried once again to bend over. "House hold," with a grunt she tried again. "Chores," she slid off her feet and onto her knees. From there she was finally able to reach into the back of the drier.
"I know love, but your main concern now is just taking it easy and making it to the end of this pregnancy in one piece with your sanity intact." He walked up behind her, waiting till she tried to stand.
She pushed on the floor with both hands yet didn't move. Then she tried to push herself backwards into a squatting position. This too failed, her belly making it impossible to get to her feet.
Xaieium stepped forward and reached under her arms. From much practice he pulled up with gentle pressure, allowing his wife to get her feet under her and push off the floor until she was back on her feet.
"I wish you didn't need to do that," she groused.
"But that's why I'm here. We weren't given leave from the regional guard for nothing now were we. The order is very specific about pregnancy and child birth."
"I know, I know. I just wish the little rascals would get done baking and get out of here," she patted her stomach affectionately. "I miss being in the air, with you," she spun around and threw her arms around his waist.
"I know you do, but that's why we have three years off. So we can have our kids and raise them for a while without having to worry about being called back to service," an angry roar from outside cut their conversation short.
"That was Smaragdus, I hope no one's stupid enough to try to get near this house right now. Her hormone's are fluctuating as bad as mine are." Aura panted as they both ran out the front door.
From the very top of one of the towering evergreen trees came a panicked scream and the snapping of limbs. Smaragdus pawed at the truck of the tree with her front paws, taking great hunks off with each pass. Xaieium squeezed Auras hand then sprinted for the base of the tree.
Getting close to the base Smara swung her massive head down the truck of the tree. Her neck broke every branch from the side it slid down in her rage.
"Ligo," Xaieium shouted and a black dome of energy congealed around him.
The branches smashed against and atop it, to be followed by the massive green head and neck. Smaragdus brought her enormous eye within inches of the dome, then with a loud huff she went back to venting her fury at trying to get the person that perched just out of her reach at the very top of the tree.
"Smaragdus, stop this now, I need to know who this person is before you eat them."
The spear shaped sparkling head swiveled for an instant to look at him, only to shoot ramrod straight to look at the intruder. That's when Xaieium heard it, a great intake of breath that he could hear as her lungs inflated. Then she roared, a great rush of sound and fury that trembled the tree and blew the remaining needles off. She then huffed as if satisfied with her display and dropped down onto all fours to coil around the base.
"Thank you," Xaieium said as he lowered the barrier his word had created and stepped closer to the tree.
"Hello stranger, what business do you have with folk living so far from the capital?" he cupped his hands and shouted to be heard at the top of the tree.
"I've been sent with a message for a Xaieium Blackthorn. The message is from the Emperors son and I was told to deliver it to him and him alone."
The voice was female, but most of the Imperial messengers were. That was no comfort to Xaieium though, Maximus was the only one who knew where he and his wife were staying, and now one more person knew. If he had even the least doubt of this woman's trustworthiness she would not leave this valley alive. She would become one with the circle of life, dragon dung makes great fertilizer.
"Come down, I'll make sure Smara doesn't eat you, yet."
"Are you sure it's safe? This message is very important, the prince made me swear to get it to you and only you." The voice from the top of the tree gained confidence with every word but still stayed where it was.
"No it's not safe, dragons are never safe for anyone but their riders. But if Smaragdus had wanted to kill you, do you think this tiny tree would have stopped her? Come on down so I can stop screaming at you."
The branches began to shift and small needles began to patter onto the ground all around him as the woman began to climb down.
"How many branches did you break off this tree Smara?" He asked, walking around the giant trunk to see not a branch within forty feet of the ground.
The sound that emanated from Smaras giant lungs sounded like huffing laughter, but she just kept her eyes shut and refused to move.
"Sir, I think we have a problem. How am I going to get down from here, your animal seems to have stripped this tree bare."
At the word animal Smara raised her head like a bullet. The messenger had lowered herself down to the branches closest to the ground and therefore well within her reach. In seconds she was staring into the green dilated iris of one very pissed off dragon.
"Never call a dragon an animal, does she look like and animal to you?" Xaieium called.
"No sir, I'm sorry dragon sir, I meant no offence really," her voice rose in pitch the closer Smaragdus pushed her snout.
"That's enough Smara if you're done giving this messenger a heart attack, could you please get her down?" Xaieium asked from the ground.
Smaragdus shook her head slowly back and forth in the negative before reluctantly bring it within arms reach of the intruder.
"Now just wrap your arms around one of her horns and hang on. She should, hopefully," he said under his breath. "Lower you to the ground."
Seconds later the woman let out an earth shattering scream. Xaieium shielded his eyes from the outrush of air as the giant emerald beast slammed her neck into the ground. The messenger's scream was cut short when she bounced off the green neck and into the mass of evergreen branches.
Xaieium glared at the dragon with narrowed eyes.
"You," he pointed a single finger at the huffing beast. "Did not have to lower her that fast."
He heard a soft moan from deep inside the greenery and waded into the branches to help the girl out.
"Thank you sir. When he dropped me, I thought I was done for," she shot a furtive glance towards the towering green Dragon standing next to her. "He really doesn't like me does he?"
"Not if you keep calling her a he," Xaieium said with a chuckle.
Her jaw dropped, and she spun to face Smaragdus.
"I beg your pardon ma'am, I meant no offence. I was told that there was only one dragon alive, and that he was male."
"Yes, well you are now one of only five people that know of her existence. Now what are you here to tell me?" Xaieium asked.
"Can we go inside sir, I really need to get off my feet," the woman motioned to the house.
"No, here's fine, you will not be staying."
"Xaieium, who's there? Did Smaragdus eat another one?" His wife's voice floated to him from the house.
His shoulders sagged and he motioned towards the house.
"Sure, now that my wife so artfully revealed her presence to a complete stranger, why don't we talk on the porch.
Nocte, I need you here now. In his head he called his mount, giving the summons just enough urgency to make sure he made a suitable entrance.
It only took a few minutes to cover the hundred yards back to the house. But as they neared the front porch the sun was blotted out by a moving shadow.