Caren Hahn

Hatched: Dragon Farmer (Chapter 1)

Charl trotted down the lane as fast as she could in boots that were too big for her feet. They were Roland’s old boots, but they kept out water better than her own, so she always wore them when doing chores. It wasn’t as if her brother needed them anymore.

Her breath streamed out in a white mist as she hurried down the path, the chill air of an autumn morning making her nose run. But the sky was bright and clear, a glorious blue setting off the brilliant yellow leaves overhead, promising a warm afternoon.

As Praxton’s farm came into view, Charl hoped he hadn’t already left for the day. He’d been clearing timber on the mountain all week with his new team of mules, and if Charl was too late she’d have to wait another day to ask for his help.

To her relief, she spotted a figure in the tall grass down by the river as she emerged from the forest path. She veered off in that direction, slowing to a walk and wiping her nose on her sleeve.

Praxton was cutting the grass with a long scythe, making wide sweeping motions that looked effortless. Charl knew better. Whenever Charl cut the grass in the pasture—now that she no longer had any goats to keep it down—her shoulders ached for days.

Praxton’s back was to her, so she gave him a wide berth as she approached. When she came round into his view, he stopped and looked up. Steam rose from his warm body in the early morning air, and Charl told herself she only casually noticed that although he wore no jacket against the chill, his shirt clung to his back with sweat. Surely the fluttering in her middle was from nothing more than her brisk walk.

“Morning, Charl. What brings you out here so early?” He leaned on the scythe and brushed his straw-colored hair off his forehead.

“Stella is broody.”


Charl nodded.

Prax frowned. “I thought her breed wasn’t supposed to—”

“I thought so too.” Charl raised her hand to her eyes to shade them from the sun. It was just rising over the tops of the fir trees, blazing gold over the grass which lay long and dry from late summer heat. “Roland said she’d never been broody for him, but this is twice now this year.”

Praxton looked over the unfinished field.

“It doesn’t have to be today,” Charl said apologetically. “Whenever you think you can spare the time. I wouldn’t even ask if she didn’t have such wicked talons.”

Prax glanced at her forehead, looking at the pink scar that rested above her right eye. “How much longer are you going to try and run that place on your own, Charl? When do you decide it’s too much?”

Charl pressed her lips together. “Roland practically took care of things by himself after our parents died, before I had learned enough to be of any use. If he can do it, so can I.”

Prax raised an eyebrow. “Look, it’s not my business. But if you ever have to put Stella or one of the others down, have you considered how hard that will be? It might be worth selling them now while they’re still young and have lots of years of laying left.”

Charl felt a flush of annoyance. “I’m not putting any of them down. Or selling them either. If you don’t want to help, I’ll take care of her myself. I’ve done it before.” That was partly true. She’d succeeded in getting Stella off the nest and away from her eggs last time, but then Stella had attacked. Fortunately, it was just a warning. If she’d meant to do serious harm, Charl would have lost the eye.

“No need for that. I’ll come. Should I bring the scythe?” Prax added with a wink.

Charl snorted. “Only if you want to lose an arm. Thanks, Prax. I owe you.”

She waited while he hefted the scythe over his shoulder and walked back up to the barn to return it. Prax had made such improvements to this place since he’d moved here two years earlier. Charl’s previous neighbors had been an old couple with no children and poor health. When Prax bought it, the thatch on the cottage was almost gone and raccoons were living in the chimney. There was no suitable place for livestock because the barn roof had collapsed, and the fence was sagging. But he’d fixed up the cottage, built a new barn, replaced the fencing, and had made it so attractive and industrious that the neighbors had soon given up their mistrust of the outsider.

Charl wished they were as generous toward her. But apparently generations of prejudice were harder to overcome than basic stranger anxiety.

As they approached Charl’s farm, she looked at it with a critical eye. There were signs of neglect, sure, but nothing disastrous. The privy roof leaked, the garden was choked with weeds, and the orchard needed pruning. Then there was the matter of the crumbling chimney stones, but how important was a chimney really? Just because winter was coming soon was no reason to fuss.

Okay, maybe she should worry.

But the barn had been built by her grandfather and was as solid as the rocky hillside it rested against. Constructed into the mountain itself, the interior of the barn was much larger than the exterior as it extended into a large cave.

“Built to last forever,” Roland had always told her with pride. And sure enough, it never seemed to age the way the rest of the farm did.

Before they entered the barn, Charl handed a thick leather coat and gloves to Prax. They were Roland’s and fit Prax well enough, though he was more muscled than Charl’s brother. She donned her own gloves and coat, and Prax looked her over.

“We oughta see if Merle can fashion you a steel cap.”

Charl shook her head and hefted a burlap sack that leaned against the door. “They don’t like steel. They have very long memories.”

Prax grunted, then opened the door to the barn and stood aside.

Light from the barn’s small windows didn’t reach the rafters where the hens roosted. As Charl’s eyes adjusted to the dimness, she could just make out the brown, leathery shadow of a dragon.

* * *

Read the full adventure here.

Hatched: Dragon Defender (Chapter 1)
Burden of Power