Chapter 1

Vala was a vet and she loved her job, but not today. Today was one of those days. Those days that start at 5:30 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. Vala hated days like these. But she had no choice to get out of bed this early as the messenger had been very persistent. The pigeon had been cooing very loudly, dancing around her head on her pillow. Vala had been able to ignore it for a few minutes, but when the bird had started to peck her head, she knew it probably was an urgent request. Irritated she sat up, scooped the bird up, and took the little scroll from its leg.

Martha 315 in labor, not progressing, need assistance–Mel’

Vala knew Mel well. Mel was short for Melchior, and he was the farmer who provided Vala most of her income. She couldn’t brush him off with a message that she would come when it was a normal time to get up, apart from the fact that Martha 315 needed her assistance. She sighed and looked at the bird.

“Come on, Caesar. Let’s reward you for all your hard work.”

Vala knew all her pigeons by name. She put Caesar in the pigeon loft with all her other messenger birds and fed them. The loft was located to one side of the room. Normally one would say ‘in a corner of the room,’ but this room had no corners. Vala lived in a mill which was round and hence had no corners. Vala ate, slept, and basically spent all of her home time in the same space as the pigeons. The pigeon loft was open, and the birds had free range to Vala’s interior. This meant that most of the room was covered in a fine dust and bird poo. Fortunately, pigeons didn’t poo in flight otherwise it would have been a different story. As it was, Vala didn’t mind wiping up the dried little poops the pigeons left everywhere, and as she wasn’t asthmatic, the dust was no big deal to her either. It gave her home a typical smell that made it hers, she always thought. Visitors didn’t always appreciate the level of cleanliness that was Vala’s standard, but she couldn’t care less. She had more important things to worry about. Like Martha 315, at the moment.

Dodo, her pet dragonet, jumped up and down around her like a bouncy ball.

“Yes, yes, I’ll feed you too, you silly animal,” Vala said and patted it affectionately.

Dodo was a rescue case. He had been found along the roadside, tied in a bag. The people who found him had dropped him off at Vala’s for a check-up, never to return for him. Vala had tried to get him a new owner by bringing him to the local rescue center. Nobody had wanted him. It wasn’t a surprise as he was as he resembled a bald granny with googly eyes, crooked teeth, and bad breath. Vala had felt sorry for the creature and had taken him in after he had stayed in the center for six weeks without one single interest. As he reminded her of a half-decayed bird, she had called him Dodo.

Dodo adored Vala like a lovesick puppy. Vala had to drag him outside by his collar every morning to feed him the dead chickens his diet consisted of. She didn’t want any dead birds inside her home. She did have her limits.

After feeding Dodo, Vala quickly got out of her pajamas and got dressed. From underneath the open window, she grabbed a wicker basket and put in Casper from the pigeon loft. She needed to replace the pigeon that had just come from Mel. She grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl. As she walked out, she put her hair up and out of the way. She locked the door behind her and patted Dodo, who just finished his breakfast. The creature looked at her with his big, droopy eyes and dropped his wings and tail. Vala couldn’t help it, but she had a soft spot for the ugly creature.

“I’ll be back, don’t you worry,” she said. “I haven’t had breakfast yet, unlike some lucky ones,” and she kissed Dodo on his nose. Immediately his tail shot up again, and she got a big slobbery kiss on her cheek. “Yuk, chicken breath!” She wiped the slobber off her face and continued walking to the stables.

Once inside she called out, “Good morning, Mort!”

She checked the content of her work bag and put it outside, next to the wicker basket, ready for take-off. Back in the stable, she walked into the sleeping quarters of her black dragon steed.

“Mort, wake up. We need to go,” she said as she got the harness off the wall.

It’s too early,” Mort grumbled in her head. Dragons didn’t have vocal cords like humans, but they were intelligent creatures and could communicate with some humans through telepathy. Not all humans, but Vala was one of the lucky ones. Sometimes she didn’t think she was so lucky when Mort was ranting on in her head again about the flaws of mankind. He was of the opinion that dragons were superior to humans and took every opportunity to let her know his position on this.

Mort didn’t move.

“Oh, come on, Mort. I don’t like to get up this early either. Don’t make it harder on me than it already is,” Vala told him grumpily and dumped the harness on his back.

My name is Mortimer,” he said dignified and got up. Vala strapped the harness belt underneath his chest and yanked it extra tight. “Ouch! That hurt.

“Well, that’s what you get for being a pain,” Vala snapped back as she closed the strap and walked outside.

Humans are so touchy in the morning,” Mort said as he followed her outside.

“So are you, Mort.”

I wasn’t talking to you,” Mort said and hunched down so Vala could strap her bag and the wicker basket to the harness.

“You should have kept your thoughts to yourself then, big chicken,” Vala smiled at him.

Mort grumbled. Vala knew she would have to endure his rant about how much more superior dragons were to chickens for the duration of the flight to Mel’s place, but she thought it was worth the satisfaction of calling him a big chicken.

Vala was not a morning person and Mort was no help. They were basically very much the same. It was probably why they were such a good team. They knew exactly what the other was thinking. Besides the fact they could literally hear each other’s thoughts, of course. Vala mounted Mort, and he spread his wings. He then stretched his front legs, then his back legs, one after the other, yawning all the while.

“Come on Mort, we haven’t got all day,” Vala said impatiently.

Give me some time to wake up, will you. I don’t want to pull a muscle,” Mort replied.

He made some smacking noises with his mouth and gave Dodo a short nuzzle. Mort liked Dodo. He couldn’t communicate with Dodo as dragonets weren’t blessed with any form of intelligence, but he treated Dodo as his own pet. Mort turned around, took a small jump and lifted himself further off the ground with a fierce beat of his magnificent wings. He was in full flight with a few quick beats.

Mort was a medium sized dragon. His skin existed of black scales that shimmied a rainbow range of colors in the sunlight. Vala had instantly fallen in love with the beast the first moment she saw him that day in the market. A vendor had come from far away, selling all sorts of dragons and dragonets. It had been a real attraction in the village as dragons weren’t often sold in this neck of the woods. Usually, you had to go to a big city to get one. Vala had spent all her savings to buy Mort and even had to borrow some money too, but she went home that day with her own dragon. Mort had been very young then, but he could immediately talk with Vala in her head. Mostly about wanting food. He had grown very fast and was now a magnificent specimen.

Once properly airborne, Mort turned in a circle above the mill that was Vala’s home.

 “Where to?” he asked.

“To Mel’s place, Mort. He’s got a wingbeast calving.”

Mort took off in the direction of Mel’s farm.

The sun was just getting over the horizon, casting a glow over the countryside. Vala saw the rolling hills, heard the birds singing their morning song, and thought that she should get up early more often to enjoy this scenery. Mort laughed in her head.

“What?” she asked Mort.

You and getting up early? Don’t make me laugh. You better take a mental picture of this image because you know this is not going to happen anytime soon again.”

“That depends on what the calving season is going to be like. You just don’t know,” Vala said, knowing she was right.

At least we will have a better view than chickens have, you know, with them not being able to fly and all,” Mort said.

‘Here we go,’ Vala thought.

I heard that,” Mort replied dryly. “But you can’t deny it. Dragons are infinitely better than chickens. We can fly, we don’t have lice, and we look so much better,” Mort went on, spreading his wings that little bit wider as he said it.

“I’m not sure, I think I can see a louse here,” and Vala pretended to scratch under one of his scales.

Eeeek!” Mort did a half summersault and burst out some smoke from his nostrils. He was very proud of being lice-free and took a lot of time preening himself, flaming his skin now and again. Vala had anticipated the move and had gotten an extra tight hold of the harness. The pigeon in the wicker basket, however, didn’t have that foresight.

“Just kidding, you big wimp!” Vala laughed.

Mort blew a big cloud of smoke in her face.

Not funny!” Mort grumbled again.

The pigeon in the wicker basket was agreeing with Mort as he tried to regain his footing, heavily blinking to get the smoke out of his eyes.

Mel’s farm came into sight. It was a big farm, taking up several hills around a large steading. On the hills, you could see the wingbeast grazing. They were a cross between dragons and cows, basically cows with wings. Mort didn’t approve of the species. He thought they were an abomination, an unfortunate result of what must surely have been an accident. He couldn’t believe that any dragon would want to mate with a cow. Nobody knew how or when it happened, but all wingbeast farmers were very thankful for the dragon that helped create the species. Against all odds, the creatures were able to procreate and produce more wingbeasts. Not all farmers kept wingbeasts as there was this problem with them flying off now and again. But if you could manage to keep your grass greener than your neighbor’s, they gave a good return on investment as their extra limbs produced a valuable extra amount of meat. Vala had an extra advantage as a vet as she was able to hear the wingbeasts’ thoughts. Not that they were coherent thoughts like that of a dragon, but she could get the idea of their problems. It made her a wanted vet among wingbeast farmers.

Mort glided down to the central courtyard of the steading and landed very gently without bringing up too much dust. Mel was already walking toward them with a pained look on his face when Vala was still untying her work bag and the wicker basket with the pigeon.

Copyrighted (c) by Jacky Dahlhaus