Paell hesitated. When he finally started, the story came out in quick bursts. He stared at the ground, or into the distance, but only now and then cast a quick glance at Mara.
"I was in a convoy on the South Road. In a small travelling carriage. The dragon plucked it up, ripped the cab from the frame. Didn't see it coming. I thought of jumping too late, would have broken every bone. So I held on.
"Until the dragon landed, and started shredding the cab. Then I screamed. I think it confused the dragon. I tried to run away in the dark, but the dragon followed me with its head, and we were in its cave, I saw no way out. It sniffed me, and prodded me with its nose." He gave a dry chuckle. "That's a bit like having an ox decide it wants to stand where you just are." The little spark of humour disappeared from his eyes, and his voice became almost too quiet to make out above the rush of water. "They taste things like snakes, you know? Only they need to open their maws, so you can see all those teeth, and the reflection of fire on the other end of that long neck..."
"But it did not kill you." Either he was a very good actor, or he needed a bit of grounding in the present at that point.
"No. I don't know why.
"I tried to kill it, though. See, that dragon collects shiny stuff. There are all kinds of things mixed in with the rubble. Glass shards, gold coins. Blades. So when I first saw it sleeping or dozing, all stretched out, I sneaked up to it, and tried to cut it." Paell tilted his head to the left and back, and drew his finger over the side of his neck, just below the jaw. "No scales there, so I thought I might... Well, it didn't work. The hide was too tough. What happened was that the dragon made this deep sort of purring noise. Made my bones shake. Next thing it does is follow me around and show throat and, and whining to have it scratched." He shook his head, as if he could not believe it himself.
The words sounded more like a tall tale to Mara than anything, but he had to be a very good liar to appear so shaken. Rather than ask suspicious questions about how long it had taken and how he'd survived, she tried to move on for now. "And you tried to run away?"
"Yes, I found a way out of the cave that did not require wings, and when the dragon actually slept, I tried. I followed the river for half a day or so, but the dragon found me, and carried me back." He flexed his right hand in an exaggerated grasping motion. Mara was not sure he was aware of it.
"It grabbed you without killing you?"
Paell shrugged. "Or I wouldn't be here. I had some scratches, but considering claws as long as my arm, he was quite gentle."
In reaction to her astonished tone, Paell flinched, turning the motion into another shrug. "Well, I've never seen it lay eggs."
Mara cursed herself inwardly for not keeping quiet, and bringing obvious mistrust into the conversation. "Come to think of it, 'he' is probably right. As far as I know it's the males that hoard." Keep going, smooth this over... "Do you have any idea why it would pick up a carriage?"
"Brass decorations." The answer came immediately, and matter-of-factly. "We might have covered them if there had been word of a dragon in the area, but it was a surprise all around."
Mara tried to call up a mental image of Fern's map. She had not paid much attention to the scale, so while she knew that they were east of the South Road, which ran all through the continent, she could not say for certain how far away they were from it. One thing was certain, though: a dragon had an easier time crossing the mountain ranges in between than people and animals on foot had.
"Why are you looking for a dragon?"
Paell's question made Mara jump in her skin. What if he really was with the dragon, and on its side? She had to decide fast what to tell him.This entry was also posted at http://anke.dreamwidth.org/117186.html. You can comment wherever you prefer.