Dragons are easy to deal with. It’s their owners that are difficult. Dragons are driven by three things: fear, anger, and hunger. All you need to do is keep them safe and fed. Owners are driven by greed, and that’s an urge that is never sated.
“A bit small,” I say, looking over the welp. It wasn’t a lie. Red dragons never grow as big as green or gold, but this one wouldn’t be tiny.
“Ah knew you’d say it,” her owner said. He was a portly man with a thick beard. Looked a bit Scottish by his garb, but he was no Scottsman. He must have figured the stereotype of scots being shrewed negotiators would be of use to him. Perhaps some would be fooled, but not me. The man eyed me, waiting for me to speak. I let my tongue hold.
“You’re just kenning for a lower price,” he said.
“My offer will be fair,” I said. “It always is.”
“Ah, well,” he said.
“Reds are fierce eaters as youngins,” I said. “One this young will fill her gullet many a day before I make back my coin.”
“Ah, but she’s a breeder,” he said.
“So he does see her value, at least in part.” A breeder, not a fighter. The most fertile reds tend to run a bit small. Whether it’s in the genes, or just that the larger ones would rather kill each other than mate, who’s to say.
“Perhaps,” I said reluctantly, “but that’s yet to be proved. She’s too young to have lain, and who could judge the brood.”
“I’m told she’s a daughter of Great Harka.”
“Her and my mother,” I scoffed. Every red was a child or grandchild of Great Harka to hear the merchants say. That great beast killed a gold of the Western Kingdom. Now she dames at Padsha, but I can’t imagine any of the nobles selling a brood, particularly a female.
On a whim, I looked for a sign.
“Hup!” I said, holding my hand in front of her nostrils. The red’s snout flared, and she stretched her neck forward, resting it lightly on my hand. That was interesting. Presenting the neck was a prelude to being ridden. It wasn’t native instinct, since it make the dragon vulnerable. It had to be taught. So either the girl saw her mother do it, or someone had been training her to ride.
“Ah, see, she likes you,” the man said. “Worth a penny or two.”
I looked at the man. It was possible hw was the trainer, but I doubted it. He didn’t look as if he understood the gesture, and besides, what trainer would sell a youngling in training. Stolen, most likely. Stolen I would believe of the man.
“She is tame, I’ll grant you that,” I said. Go for his greed. “What’s your price again?”
“Ah didna say a price,” the man replied. His scottish accent was failing. He was hungry for the sale.
“Well, then say it now, man.” I said.
“Well,” he stammered, “Ah couldna take less than four hundered.” Four hundred for a small, untested breeder was a big ask. But this dear girl was worth double that price.
I inhaled through my teeth. “A bit steep given her size,” I said. I couldn’t just pay his ask, or he might start to realize what he has. “But she is tame, so I could do three twenty.” I hoped it was low, but not too low.
“That would be theft, and no doubt,” the man replied. “But as she likes you, I could do three seventy. But I won’t hear no more.”
“That’s almost fair,” I said. “Throw in a goat for her breakfast, and my purse is yours.”
“Ah, now,” the man said, smiling. He offered his hand and we shook. I counted gold coins into his hand, and the deal was made. “Ah’ll get yer goat,” the man said, shuffling off to the market fields.
“Well, now,” I said to the young red dragon, “we need to find out where you came from.”