Before I left her, Serilla and I spent a few days above ground in and around the house on top of her cavern. Since the night I met my late wife, I’ve never felt comfortable around anyone who made me feel at peace. The instant I start to feel myself relaxing around someone the urge to flee rises up into an all-consuming flame. For some reason that didn’t happen this time, and that made me even more uneasy than if it had. What can I say? I’m kinda fucked up.
In addition to some of the best cooking I’ve had the pleasure of eating since I left Terra behind, I learned a little more of what I was getting myself into. The fact that the knowledge came while we sat and watched some of the most breathtaking sunsets I can remember was just a bonus. On one of those evenings we were sitting in a pair of chairs on a small porch on the back of the house when I decided it was time to clear up a few things that were bugging me.
“So, I’m guessing that this hunter was put on your trail because of the terrible things you were doing to some village or barony?” I asked her while we were watching the sun go down. “You know eating virgins, burning villages, hoarding treasures…the standard dragon stuff? That about right? Not that I give a shit. Power belongs to the powerful. I’m just trying to see how big of a hoard of people I’m about to piss off.”
“Where in the name of the Great Mother did you get that idea?” she asked me turning in her chair to look me in the eye. “Is that what you think of my kind? Think back to the Communion Tole. Did you learn nothing?”
I sat there for a while reflecting on the Communion I’d shared with her. Dragons are predators to be sure. With the glaring exception of this magically enhanced hunter they are the alpha predator on this world. Top of the fucking food chain. They hunt their food, but like every other predator in the known universe they hunt the old and weak first. Unlike every other predator they do it consciously to maintain a healthy herd and food supply. Livestock is only taken if there is no other option.
What they are not is egotistical or megalomaniacal. They don’t need to be feared or worshipped. They don’t demand sacrifices or tribute from weaker species. They prefer to hoard things that they find beautiful, but they steal it fair and square not by coercion through fear. If that old wyrm from those Tolkien novels had been a real dragon, there wouldn’t have been any survivors to come back and retake the mountain. Once again I’ve let the mythos of my home world color my perceptions of things. I feel like an idiot.
I take her hand and say, “I’m sorry Serilla. Someday I will bring you books from my home that will show you how the storytellers of my world imagined your kind. It is nothing like reality, but it did become ingrained when I was younger and it continues to color my perceptions when it should not. That being said though if you weren’t terrorizing the countryside, why the bounty on your head?”
“Because I had a moment of mercy,” she said shaking her head. “Maybe it was because I had just hatched my brood, and I was feeling maternal. I went to the keep of a local noble to take a gem I had gotten word was in his possession. Normally I would have just killed them; taken it; and been done with it. As I approached the bedroom of the Baron and his family I saw his wife suckling their new born child. I just stood there in the doorway holding this ruby the size of an apple. I turned to walk away and he summoned his guards. Before they arrived I leapt from a window, transformed, and flew away.”
“A few days later I was in the market in the village and heard that the Baron was hiring the land’s greatest dragon hunter to kill the terrible beast and rid the countryside of the menace. It was all I could do not to burn the place to the ground right then. Instead I went to the father of my brood and told him of what I had learned. He expressed his anger with me for not killing the Baron by very nearly killing me himself. He told me he would deal with the threat, but to never come to him again. I limped back to my cave to heal and care for my young.”
Her shoulder slumped and she leaned forward looking out to the horizon. Then she continued, “Four days later he had not returned, so I went in search of him. I found his corpse in a field still tied to the ground with his heart cut out. I knew I was next and I knew I could not defeat the hunter. That is when I began my search that led me to you. The rest you know.”
I was suddenly reminded of that night so long ago on Terra when I backed off of a kick to the knee trying to not permanently maim a local cowboy. I heard a distant voice in my head say, “Break the damned thing next time idiot! Mercy’s only gonna get you killed!”
I looked at Serilla and told her, “We’ve all had moments when we showed some mercy and it came back to bite us in the ass. The important bit is to learn from it if you live and not to make that mistake again. The reason your brood sire failed is because the hunter expected him. He was ready to face a dragon. He’s not ready for me. I’m something new. He’s not gonna see me coming, and he will die.”
She smiled, stood up, and walked over to me. She sat across my lap draping her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. I still haven’t figured out why she doesn’t weigh six tons even in human form. I’ve asked her, and her only explanation is “magic.“
“Killer,” she whispered in my ear. “if you were a dragon I think you would make an exceptional one. Not to mention a more than acceptable mate.”
“You’re just not gonna let that go are you?” I asked her with a grin on my face.
“Never,” she said with a little wiggle of her ass that did interesting things to the part of my lap where she was sitting, “but I can see you’re still not giving in to my wiles. Alas…oh well, tea?” she asked with a sigh of resignation.
“That sounds good,” I said and smacked her on her firm human ass as she walked away. I knew it was an affectation, an illusion, but it was a damned good one. As I watched her walk into the house I realized something. Tea and water was all I’d had to drink for nearly a week. No rum or beer or anything mind altering had gone down my gullet since I got here. The odd thing was I really hadn’t wanted any. First time in years I was sober and not on a job. Weird thing was I seemed to be content in my sobriety. Huh…that bears further examination when time allows it.
She came back a few minutes later with two mugs of tea. It wasn’t quite what we’d call tea back on Terra. It had a nutty quality to it. I liked it. Have to take some back to Bobby to add to the menu. Serilla handed me my tea and then promptly sat back down in my lap to drink hers. I started to protest, but hell it was nice to have someone close that I wasn’t worried would stab me in the back…literally. We say in silence and watched the sun go down. Only after it had set did I notice that she had laid her head on my shoulder and had fallen asleep. I guess I’m not the only one who’s enjoying having someone close who can be trusted.
The sounds of her breathing eventually lulled me to sleep as well. When we woke up the next morning, my legs were completely useless for about ten minutes. I wouldn’t have changed anything. Once I could move though I found her in the kitchen making food. Next to Bobby, she’s my new hero.
Breakfast was eggs of some kind, fruit, a small steak, gravy, and a stone oven bread with more of that hot tea to drink. I’m telling you it was heaven. I realize that domestic skills are part of the whole “wiles” package, but it was getting damned hard to resist her. If I’m ever gonna get out of here and not end up hitched to a dragon (Which I’m sure Bobby would think was hi-fucking-larious.), I’d better get this show on the road.
“Serilla,” I said between bites, “this time we’ve spent together on your hill has been great, but you’re not paying me to play house. I need to go find these assholes and end this. I know you’ve said you think you’re not high on their list, but you are on it. They’re going to come eventually, and I’d rather they die without ever knowing the location of your home. It’s safer for you and your brood. I need to get the hunt started.”
She had been sitting with her head on her hands watching me eat, but now she leaned back in her chair. A look of concern crossed her features, and she took a deep breath.
“You are right of course, but I had hoped to stall your departure a little longer,” said dragging her finger along the grain of the wood table top. “I had half hoped you had reconsidered and were going to let me release you from our bargain. I should have known you had not. You are a man of commitment and focus. That was one of the things that stood out to me the most during our Communion. Once you take a task you do not shirk from it regardless of the danger. You are a man of your word, and I have found that to be rare among your kind. What do you need from me?”
“I just need to know where to look. The rest is up to me. I have a plan…sort of, so I just need to find them. After that we can sit on this hill until I’m old and grey…or until I get bored and need to kill someone or something. ”
She thought it over for a couple of minutes and then said, “I can get you within a couple of miles of wherever they are camped. They have detection magic that alerts them if a dragon gets any closer than that, so that will have to suffice. I cannot risk them following me back here.”
I honestly hadn’t considered them having their camp warded against the approach of a dragon, but it makes sense. If I made my living hunting giant, fire breathing lizards, I’d want a little heads-up if one was coming for a little revenge on me.
“That’ll be fine. I’ve walked further to take a target. I remember this one job taking out a magistrate for some pirates when I had to hike through some damned thick jungle. Forest and grasslands will be a casual stroll compared to that. Besides I need to look like I’ve been traveling on foot for a while if I’m going to sell my story to them. I packed my kit yesterday when you went hunting, so we can go as soon as you’re ready,” I said finishing that last of my breakfast.