The dragon known as Sigurd was a proud creature, as many dragons were. When He was first brought to the metal forest as a hatchling, He would not sleep in Marquis’ hollowed tree of fired stone. He had insisted on finding His own cave, by Himself, and would not move from it even when tempted with the price of a free meal. He had taken twenty men to move Him even as a hatchling, and He would return to His cave every night in defiance of Marquis. This was the way things were. This way the way things were supposed to be.
In time He had grown to respect Marquis, and would even acknowledge him as being like Him and let him feed Him. He had done this partially out of hunger, for there was little to eat in the metal forest besides the things called humans and the yappy things they called their pets, and they were troublesome and not filling. They would satisfy as a quick snack, but He would need larger things if He wished to grow. Hooved things. Perhaps clawed things too. The dragon known as Sigurd hungered for hooved and clawed things, and hooved and clawed things did Marquis provide. But the respect was still there. No ordinary human man-thing was allowed to feed the dragon known as Sigurd.
Now normally for the dragon known as Sigurd, feeding time meant venturing to the edges of His cave where He would find the carcasses of dead things to strip of their meat. Sometimes hooved and clawed things, like He liked. Other times many smaller things, enough to satisfy His appetite. These offerings, whether they were the tributes of lesser things or gifts from Marquis, were what sustained the dragon known as Sigurd. Because He had chosen to live in the metal forest there was little to eat, but He was also too stubborn and proud to leave it. It was His now, even if there was little to hunt.
But the other day He had been given an offering most satisfactory. Four fully grown hooved things stewed in the meat juices of the hooved vegetable things of Barbary, many tiny feathered things, and the torso of a wolf-man-thing for dessert. He had seen fit to consume it all, although He now had begun to think perhaps such a large meal was meant to be spaced out. Now it had been two days since he’d last seen Marquis, and he had run out of food the evening of the first day. The dragon known as Sigurd grew hungry.
He returned to the chained-up wolf-man-thing at the edge of his cave, eager to see if its lower half had regrown itself yet. The sight of the meat was a welcome one, but it frustrated the dragon known as Sigurd that the upper half had been placed just beyond his reach. It kept his meal alive, but two human-thing legs was hardly a satisfying meal, only a snack.
The dragon known as Sigurd dug in to His meal of human-thing legs, the wolf-man-thing which had been so quiet after the first time screaming in agony. Sigurd finished, and the wolf-man-thing went quiet again. Was it undergoing the short death again? Or had it just understood that it was His meal, and He did not like interruptions?
The dragon known as Sigurd paced, still hungry. He roared with righteous elemental fury at the mouth of his cave, which had been blocked off by rocks to discourage any outings (except when Marquis needed Him, He understood that much about the permanency of this prison of his choosing). Perhaps the noise would awaken the littler things and remind them to feed Him.
Fifteen minutes passed with no result. He roared again, this time making sure to express His anger by roaring twice.
“Shut up down there!” the unfamiliar voice of a man-thing echoed. He listened. Marquis? No, not Marquis. Voice too different.
He knew those words. They meant “be quiet”. Denial. Dismissal. The dragon known as Sigurd roared again. How dare these inferior creatures deny Him a meal?
“I said shut up!” the human-thing cried, stomping on the floor. “We already gave you that furball’s carcass, what more do you want?”
The dragon known as Sigurd roared again. He would continue to make His demands known until these inferior things remembered their place.
“Lou, just feed the damn thing,” another human-thing voice said. He knew that word too. Feed.
There was more shouting outside his cave. Finally, one of the voices seemed to relent and, timidly, the still-living carcass of a hooved thing was poked and prodded into his cave by quivering hands at the end of a long stick. It mooed frightfully, and the dragon called Sigurd was on it in a millisecond, ripping and tearing it and breaking its spine so it could not flee. His prey subdued, He gave His own thanks for a live meal (though he still wished desperately to hunt), then began to eat.
He first heard the waves of a sound familiar to Him when He reached the creature’s liver, though He could not remember why or how he knew them. It was slow, as sound would be to an animal such as He that was built to surpass sound itself, coming to Him in individual waves or packets instead of a whole, complete sound as the human things perceived it.
He raised his head to listen for a moment, then continued to eat. He knew many sounds. This one would not interrupt His meal. The dragon known as Sigurd would not answer the call of a lesser creature, much less in the middle of a meal. Then He heard the rest of the sound, and knew it was the sound. The sound Marquis had told Him to look out for.
With a new purpose and wind beneath His wings, the dragon known as Sigurd dropped his meal and everything else He was doing to bull-rush the sealed entrance to His cave, breaking down the embankments and squeezing His way out of the cave and into the sky. The dragon known as Sigurd was smart, smarter than a five year old human child. And even children knew better than to ignore their parents when they were being called. Below, two man-things wet themselves.
In seconds the dragon known as Sigurd was coasting the winds between New York and Montreal, flooding his nostrils with the smells, trying to pick apart the ones He was supposed to be looking for. This was a difficult task, except for one such as Him. He could smell many on the terrain below, each scent pungent and unique. He smelled Marquis, the man-thing called Alfonso, and the faint smells of an adolescent woman-thing as well as the pungent smell of his last live human meal and many others that smelled like it. He did not question this. Had some of it been saved for Him to eat again? He hoped so. Live prey was better than dead meat.
Flapping His wings gracefully, he cleared the snow beneath Him so He could have a proper place to rest on the ground. He did not need to see them to smell them, but He still kept his well-trained eyes focused on the forest where they lay in wait. He would not deign to appear unguarded or weak in front of such puny human-things. However, He would show his underbelly to Marquis if He was so asked.
A single human woman-thing walked out of the forest carrying a bloody knife and some other thing in a large sack. She was not Marquis.
Her appearance startled the dragon called Sigurd. There should have been many here, but He could only see one, and He could not smell her stench. The things that touched her left traces of their smell on her, but even when she sweat, she herself was clean. Sterile. Scentless.
That was how the dragon called Sigurd knew. This was not a human thing. Artificial, in the shape of a human woman-thing. Life created. Not life born. Did not smell.
Then He remembered. He had seen this one before. This thing was there when He had His last live human meal. When He fed on the man-thing Marquis had called “Mickey Donahue”. When Marquis was surrounded by bad things.
Then… was she bad?
He thought to Himself. This one was not Marquis. This one was not safe.
The dragon known as Sigurd bared His fangs. The worm-thing in His mouth wriggled, boiling His saliva and making a hissing noise while putrid steam poured out from inside His cavernous jaws.
The not-human thing that was not safe did not falter or change her expression, and she did not display any outward signs of weakness. But she placed her hand on her chest. To her, this was safe. She felt nervous. Afraid.
Sigurd arched His head back, preparing to strike at the next sign of anxiety or fear. Those who fear are only afraid because they have something to hide. This thing could not be trusted.
“Oh, that’s right. The Marquis told me that I would have to feed you,” the woman thing said. She held something in her other hand. A leg of a hooved thing, still raw, still attached to the bottom half of the carcass. She held the hooved thing’s haunches and lower quarters out in front of her as an offering before slowly kneeling and dropping it on the ground in front of the dragon known as Sigurd. Having done this, she took a step back.
The dragon known as Sigurd eyed the woman-thing suspiciously. Was this a trap? Bait maybe? Was it safe?
The dragon called Sigurd sniffed the meat. Fresh. Still bloody, but cold. Kept fresh. Thawed recently. Couldn’t smell poison. Smelled good.
The dragon called Sigurd eyed the woman-thing. She was not displaying any signs of aggression. She was still nervous. Was she lying or was she scared? Scared of Him perhaps? Yes, scared. Trustworthy?
With slight hesitation, the dragon known as Sigurd licked the meat of the hooved thing. The blood tasted like blood. No poison. Tasted good. The dragon known as Sigurd was still hungry…
Without much hesitation, the dragon known as Sigurd snapped up the meat of the hooved thing, whipping it around in his mouth before pinning it to the ground and tearing it into strips and pieces he could eat. Safe. Safe and good.
He ate while keeping an eye on the woman-thing, which seemed to have resolved itself to approaching Him. She walked slowly, with careful, calculated steps. The dragon known as Sigurd stopped eating, and she stopped. If she dared interrupt His meal, He would destroy her. A few minutes passed, and He started eating again. She approached.
Slowly, the smaller creature reached out to touch Him. Wrong. She was not afraid. Should have been, but was not. Fearful of something else. What was it? Reluctantly, He let her touch him.
She stroked his scales gently. Felt good. Made for a nice meal. The dragon known as Sigurd relaxed, and laid His head down on the ground to continue eating lazily. She was no threat to him. The woman-thing was safe. Could maybe be trusted, so long as she kept feeding the dragon called Sigurd and didn’t try attacking Him.
She hoisted herself on top of the dragon known as Sigurd, sitting with both legs saddled around his neck. She praised Him for not moving. He did not mind. The small, annoying creature was safe, so long as it moved quickly.
The woman-thing retrieved a piece of leather and a scrap of cloth that smelled like Marquis. The dragon called Sigurd supposed that was one question answered. But what did she intend to do with that strangely-shaped piece of hide?
“Now, how did he say I was supposed to ride you…?” she asked herself, placing the piece of leather beneath her before tying the cloth bundle that smelled like Marquis to the end of a rope.
His earholes perked up as she dangled the cloth in front of Him. Ride?