Tintaglia awoke in mid-morning. She lifted her head and looked at the sun. Then she rose and stretched and limbered her wings. The same restlessness that had afflicted her for the last ten days filled her again. It grew stronger as the sun rose higher.
She had chosen to sleep high on a rocky ridge on the cliffs behind Kelsingra after her morning kill. She had felt an urgency when she had first awakened, but dismissed it as only hunger. But now, fed, rested and awake, heritage memories were stirring in her. She studied the sun’s position in the sky. Yes.
She smelled him in the waft of his wings on the wind. She turned to watch Kalo circling slowly down to alight beside her. The blue-black drake had grown since she had first encountered him and would continue to grow for all the days of his life. He took two steps toward her and extended his neck, snuffling the air around her. Today. He offered the word and waited for her.
Today, she confirmed. It was time.
IceFyre swept past them. He knew better than to attempt to land near her. Kalo had established that with him in several bloody battles. But the old dragon was within his rights and knew it. ‘Today!’ he trumpeted the word as he overshadowed them briefly.
Downhill of them she saw other dragons lift their heads from where they had been dozing on the rocky cliffs. Far below them, in the city, she knew that the keepers would be pausing in their coming and going, stopping their ant-hill lives to stare up in wonder.
Kalo stared at her, his eyes spinning possessively. Who flies with you? he demanded.
What sort of a drake asks that of a queen? IceFyre mocked him as he swept past again. I am sire of this first generation. To me is what is mine. I travel with her, to the nesting beaches, to watch over the digging of the nest and keep the Others at bay. Have you no memories of this and the proper way of doing things?
Tintaglia considered. She eyed the ragged black dragon as he swept past once more. Kalo had stretched himself tall and partly opened his wings. I have memories, he replied sullenly. I have memories of a time when there would have been a dozen queens on the island, and drakes doing battle for the best nesting sites. Those days are gone. We begin a new time. Perhaps we begin with new ways.
And Kalo will accompany us, she decided. He is young and strong. I will have him fly with me as well.
That is NOT how it is done! IceFyre was outraged. You have no memories at all! Only the sire goes with the queen to the nesting beach to guard her. Other drakes are not to be trusted. He will destroy the nest and trample the eggs.
Kalo stretched his neck and opened his wings wide. He was still not as large as IceFyre, but his wings were unrent, his muscles full and limber. The deep midnight blue of his scaling was now spangled with tiny silver stars. He snapped his wings once and toxins welled to each clawed tip. Do you challenge me for this, old dragon? He swung his gaze to Tintaglia. I will not destroy the nest. There are too few dragons in the world. What do I care if the first clutch you lay are his get? The clutches to follow will be mine, and my offspring will need mates.
You think like humans! IceFyre issued his proclamation in disgust. Were the clutch not mine, I would not care. But I warn you now, youngster. Disturb the nest and the fight will be to the death.
Tintaglia snorted disdainfully. Any male that disturbs my nest will die! No queen needs a drake to make that so.
‘Today, then!’ Kalo trumpeted it loudly to all, dragons and Elderlings alike. I leave now. You had best follow soon, for otherwise I doubt you will recall the way.
I know the way, she responded angrily.
Go, then. Kalo dismissed IceFyre. You should probably fly swiftly, for soon we both will overtake you.
IceFyre roared a wordless insult at Kalo, then banked his wings and swept away. She watched him go, saw him diminish in the distance. He was a dragon from another time, she decided. It was good that her first generation of young would inherit his memories. It would be even better if they were wise enough to adapt to a world in which there were less than twenty mature dragons. She wondered how many eggs she would lay, how many would hatch, how many would survive their time in the sea as serpents, and if those serpents would have to be guided home to the cocooning grounds, as Maulkin’s tangle had. Then she snorted the thought away. In one way, at least, IceFyre was right. She had acquired many human ways of thinking. Why worry about a tangle that was not even hatched yet, let alone serpents that must grow for years before returning to the Rain Wild River?
She looked down on Kelsingra. ‘Today!’ She trumpeted the announcement loudly. And then she waited. IceFyre might be correct that she did not have all her memories, but she had some. Some traditions must be observed. What was the delay?
In the city below her, a slender form emerged onto the tower parapet. He was robed in silver and deepest blue, and Selden lifted his voice to the sky, in praise of the day. The ancient words shivered in her blood, standing up her crest and the ruff on her neck.
‘Today, today, the Queen goes forth today! Her belly is rich with eggs, she carries inside her the generation to come. Today, today, the Queen leaves us today! Sing, sing, all, sing her praise, and wish her good fortune on her flight!’
He paused. She listened. Voices were lifted – humans, and then dragons joining in and drowning them out. ‘Today! Today! Tomorrow begins today!’
She and Kalo basked in the roar of sound. She lifted her wings wide to them, wove her head on her long neck to accept her adulation. The cacophony died away. It was over. Now she would fly.
But suddenly Selden’s voice rose again, in praise of her alone. She set her eyes on him, listening in pleasure. ‘The Queen rises, the blue Empress, Tintaglia, she of the wide wings touched with Silver, she who led the serpents to Cassarick, she who fed the first of the new generation! Eldest of our queens and wisest, bravest, always cleverest! Wide-winged Tintaglia goes to the nesting ground!’
As she watched, other Elderlings emerged onto the tower top. Reyn. Malta. She held aloft the child Tintaglia had saved, and they joined their voices to Selden’s. ‘Today! Today! Today!’ Malta lifted Ephron high on each word, and the baby’s newly found laughter rose to Tintaglia.
‘Today!’ she trumpeted out a blast in response, and felt the good wishes of her Elderlings rise to her as she opened her wings and leapt into flight.