Of Scales and Eyes

Silviera walked over to the curved tunnel that led outside. She paused for a moment, sniffed at the cool night air, then paced back into the middle of the cavern. After a few minutes, which she spent staring longingly at the large off-white object nestled on a heap of straw, she once again paced over to the entrance. Another sniff to make sure no one was near, then she wandered back to the nest. This went on for sometime, back and forth until Silviera's body grew weary. When she was younger this much movement would hardly have got her warm, but now she seemed to tire easily.

So, she decided to settle down in the centre of the cave and just watch. She spread her considerable length across the floor of the irregular natural cave in which she had lived for many centuries. A man, a very brave one, would have taken several minutes to walk the distance between the tip of her tail and the end of her cavernous snout. The small amount of light that entered the cave showed her dull scales to be a dark silvery grey, scored and scorched by the many encounters she had survived with a multitude of beasts.

Her eyes were a light orange, still sharp despite the years. But her open mouth revealed broken and missing dagger-like teeth, each telling a story of gargantuan battles. Her eyes glazed over as she studied the nest. Yesterday it had been a mess, and although she was now better satisfied with the nest as a whole she still fussed with it relentlessly.

Occasionally she would pull out a wisp or a stray stalk and re-position it on the pile. At other times she would pick up one of the gold or silver items that formed the centre of the nest. She would examine the item, turning it around with a huge talon, then place it carefully back on the nest. As Silviera lay dozing on the cool rock of the cave floor her mind wandered back to when, a few short days ago, Hamma the giant had stopped by on one of his occasional visits...

...The morning sun beat down on the grey rock of the cave entrance causing Silviera to retreat inside. She had just returned from the hunt, bringing back a small horse which she had noisily consumed in front of her lair. There was a time when she could easily have snatched a full-grown horse right off the plains below, thinking nothing of the pitiful jabbing of the tiny man wrapped in metal that had been on the horses back. She did so like to eat those little men but they were very difficult to get out of the steel shell. In her youth she had eaten them whole, but she found they gave her too much wind nowadays.

Silviera was dozing after the meal when a shadow fell across the entrance. A voice called out, "Anyone at home?" and a giant, stooping through the tunnel she herself virtually filled, entered her lair smiling. He was taller than she was high but nowhere near as wide. His hair was long, black and stuck out at all angles as if the hurricanes themselves had combed it. His face was dirty, unshaven but not yet a beard, his fur clothes were a parti-colour of patches and mends and his smile revealed a missing tooth at the front. He was well muscled without being huge, the kind of build you get from doing physical labour. Silviera wondered how hard put she would be to better this one, but the giant was an old acquaintance who often stopped by to trade, so the thought was only a brief one.

"Good to see you Hamma, I thought I recognised your smell drifting on the air last night." "Your nose is as good as ever Silviera of the Greycloud," replied Hamma not at all offended. "It is also good to see you well. I had heard rumours of the Dragondeath riding these parts, but I think it would take more than a few tin men to harm you." "Had I been but a few years younger I would show those vermin where to stick their 'mighty arrows'." Hamma laughed heartily, then grew serious, it wasn't advisable to dawdle in a dragon's cave, no matter how big you were. "Now, to business. I have something in my wagon outside that might interest you. Something that you have mentioned before.

Remember on my last visit when you said how lonely it can get around here? How you said you would have eaten me before now if not for my pleasant company?" The dragon opened one eye wider, "What have you bought me this time Hamma? Not more of your strange glowing orbs. I couldn't see a thing in the last one you sold me, and it shattered when I..." "No, no, no, Silviera, nothing like that at all. Something you can talk to, and will talk back...a child of your very own!" Silviera lifted her long neck and glared at Hamma with orange eyes, "You have plundered the nest of another dragon to bring me a child?" She inhaled meaningfully. Hamma thrust out his hands palms forward, "No!,no, not a child, I would never do that. No, this is something far better. I will explain. The

Dragondeath I just mentioned have been very active recently, over in the Sabre ridge mountains," he pointed for effect, then rushed on. "Causing a whole nest of eggs to be orphaned. Some of them have been taken to mothers with eggs of their own. But I managed to save one for you. For only a small fee, just to pay for the costs of bringing it here of course, it can be yours." He smiled nervously at Silviera, wiping sweating palms down his shirt front. Although her breath was still held in, her eyes had lost focus, she was deep in thought, a kind of smile on her scaled face. Finally she looked at Hamma. "Bring it in, I want to see it." Hamma rushed from the cave and returned trundling a large handcart.

It was filled by a round, swollen object which was wrapped with furs of different kinds stitched crudely together. Slowly, carefully, watching Silviera all the time, Hamma theatrically removed the furs. As soon as her eyes fell on the egg Hamma knew he had a sale. Silviera bounded forwards and prodded the yellowish egg with an enormous claw. The leathery shell dented slightly, then the whole egg rocked. A quiet trilling noise sounded from within the egg. "It is due to hatch any day now," whispered Hamma. Silviera was enraptured. Her eyes were as big as cart wheels, her heart thumped like a rock slide, her front claws dug gouges in the rock of the cave floor. She had never got around to having children of her own for several reasons, but had always promised herself that one day she would.

Dreamily, never taking her eyes off the egg, she whispered, "Hamma, take whatever you wish from my gold pile, then leave quietly, I wish to be alone with my baby." Hamma started to protest about the cart, then stopped himself. He could take as much gold as he could carry, which was a considerable amount, from Silviera's horde. He could buy another cart, hell, he could just retire. No need to haul that damn thing up every mountain in sight just to earn a few gold coins. Good riddance to it, although, think of how much gold it could carry...no, don't think about it. Silviera vaguely heard the scraping and chinking of coins, the hushed giggling of a giant, and the soft footsteps of Hamma leaving the cave. She didn't hear him come back for the coins he dropped on the way out, she was too busy cooing to the egg by then. Several hours later she was regretting sending him away so fast.

There were so many questions she needed to ask; What do I do with it now? Will it need help hatching out? What will it eat when it hatches? She was completely unaware that giants didn't lay eggs. She had transferred the egg from the cart onto a hastily built nest of grass sods she had ripped up from outside. The cart lay in pieces on the floor where she had broken it apart to better remove the egg. She had considered using the wood for the nest, but had decided it was too sharp. Silviera had little experience of nests or nest building, she had seen them of course, been in one herself many centuries ago, but that didn't really help. Trusting to instinct had proved more useful, as had a little common sense. But she was still unsure as to how long the nest needed to last, it certainly didn't look strong enough to withstand the attentions of an exuberant baby, and she had been promised to expect developments within days.

Over the next day and night she built another nest, of straw from an abandoned farm some distance away. She had really had to steel herself to leave the egg alone, in the end she had obstructed the entrance with loose boulders before flying quickly away, and rushing straight back, with entire haystacks clutched in her hind legs. Then a memory of another nest had reminded her to line it with gold and gems. The pile of gold she slept on didn't seem enough, so she had scoured every single corner of her den looking for every last valuable item. Picking up gold, silver and gems with a triumphant cry, throwing copper and semi-precious stones out of the cave in disgust. The thunderous noise and the whistling of jetsam attracted the attention of a few passers-by, but they were all smart enough to stay that way. Finally the egg was transferred to the new nest, all she had to do now was wait...

- Copyright Steve Dean