Eleanor Margaret Jones turned seven the year Liberty Belle had her first clutch. One perfect egg. The egg was a sandy green color the size of the pumpkins growing in Farmer Dan’s field. Ellie visited with Liberty Belle every morning before school and every night before story time.
If she was very, very good sometimes papa would read to her in the stone barn, leaning against Liberty’s side with a faded patchwork quilt tucked up over her lap and around the egg sitting in the sand of the nest. “One more story, papa, please,” Ellie begs. She’s twirling one of Liberty’s discarded feathers between her fingertips, pretending to write magic in the air.
“Ellie, it’s getting late,” Gabe says, closing the book.
“Please, papa, just one more for Liberty and for the egg. Promise I’ll brush my teeth twice after and I won’t tell mama,” Ellie pleads.
“Not if we don’t tell her.”
“Please, papa….a real story too. Not a fairy tale. A story about you and the Howling Commandos, Liberty and the Captain.”
“Alright, one more story just for the egg. Hmmm, lemme see, did I ever tell you about the time we lost Captain America?”
“Not that one, papa. That’s the wrong story.”
“Oh, how about the time Dum Dum set fire to his hat?”
“Noooo, the one about the tank and the chocolate,” Ellie says, voice loud. Something smooth and warm bumps against Ellie’s bare legs.
“What about the one where I charmed your mother into giving me a kiss?”
“Mama says that story’s not true.”
“The he…ck it’s not true.”
“Sides you kiss mama all the time,” Ellie says pursing her lips. She holds the feather like a paintbrush and paints imaginary lines over the quilt and Liberty’s shining scales. “Liberty wants a story about her, don'tcha, Liberty?”
But Liberty Belle wasn’t listening to Ellie or Gabe, her head was cocked to the side, ears swiveling back and forth.
Liberty Belle sings softly, a pattern of low and high notes that make Ellie’s tummy tickle. The dragon nestles her head closer to Ellie and carefully nudges the edge of the quilt away from where it’s tucked around the egg.
Crack goes the egg, rocking in the sand.
“The egg’s hatching, papa, the dragon’s gonna be borned,” Ellie gasps.
“Shhh, sweetheart,” Gabe says, lifting his daughter into his arms. Ellie squeals wrapping her arms around his neck and they watch as Liberty Belle sings to the egg.
The egg rocks to the side and a chunk of shell falls away revealing the hatchling dragon’s nose with the toughened point of the egg tooth at the end. Liberty coos, touching her nose to the hatchling. The baby dragon cries and the shell splinters in two.
Ignatius the dragon hatches on a Sunday night. His scales are the color of cream and red hot coals. Liberty Belle took her baby from the shell, and carefully checks him over with her paws before cleaning the hatchling with her pink tongue. The baby dragon trills and squirms under his mother’s care.
The mother dragon blows a hot breath over the hatching drying off the damn down covering his stubby wings and a tuft at the top of his head.
“Oh, he’s so beautiful, papa,” Ellie whispers lacing her fingers together beneath her chin. “Can I touch him?”
“No buts, sweetheart, Liberty needs time to bond with her baby and you have an important mission.”
“Mhmm, you need to report the news to mama.”
“The Howling Commandos, and Mr Stark too?”
“Mustn’t forget aunt Angie,” Ellie nods seriously.
“I don’t think anyone can do that any more than anyone can forget your mama,” Gabe laughs. He kisses the side of Ellie’s head and carries her out the open barn door.
“What if the baby needs me while I’m on my mission?”
“I I think Belly has everything covered.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as I am that you are the prettiest little girl in the whole wide world.”