Ailsa walked around the dragon’s home, making note of treasure both valuable and easily carried. A golden goblet crusted with jewels. An emerald-studded circlet. A silver dagger with inscriptions in a lost tongue. Pouches filled with old coins and rough cut stones. A bookshelf lined with rare tomes.
A scraping, rattling sound drew Ailsa’s attention as Varcorak dragged in a crate filled with bottles. “Where do you get all this stuff?”
Varcorak glanced over as he hauled the crate. “Stole some of it in my youth. The rest I call payment for services rendered. See anything you fancy?”
Ailsa browsed a drawer filled with exotic writing implements. There were gryphon feather quills, inkpots of ivory and bone, a pen carved from antler. “You’ve all sorts of interesting things. Why?”
The dragon settled on his haunches to examine the bottles one by one. “I wish to be your companion, not your captor. When you leave, you may choose something in return for your companionship.”
Paying her off like some whore. How sweet. “Oh, well thank you, Dragon!” One item for months with the dragon? More like a pack full of treasure for a quickie and a cuddle.
“Care for some wine?” The dragon held a bottle in his webbed paw.
“Later, but you go ahead.”
“As you wish.” The dragon plunked a single claw into the cork and pulled it free. He flicked the cork into the crate then poured the wine into an oblong pewter bowl. “I’ll open more later with our tarts.”
“That’s fine.” Get drunk, eat treats, pass out. Perfect.
Ailsa stumbled upon a box holding what looked like sets of large, padded shackles. Had he been captured at some point? Then she saw something with a smooth wooden handle, and pulled it free. The wood beyond the handle was flat, broad, and leather-wrapped.
Ailsa stared. No way. “Is this a paddle?”
“What?” The dragon placed the empty bottle in the crate.
“This is a paddle.” Ailsa swatted her hand, laughing.
“Sorry.” The dragon sniffed at his wine. “Don’t know that word.”
“Then what is this?”
“No idea.” The dragon shrugged his wings.
Ailsa smirked, and smacked her hand again. “This is a big paddle, Dragon. Is this for you or your guests?”
The dragon lapped at his wine, glancing over. “What’s it do?”
“Repeating the word doesn’t explain the meaning.” The dragon snorted.
“Right.” Ailsa stuck the paddle back in the box. “We’ll go that route. If you decide you want your scaly ass paddled, let me know.” Paddling a dragon sounded fun. If he kept up the attitude, she’d ‘accidentally’ swing it low and see how high the beast’s voice could get. “I’ll just put it by your fun-time shackles.”
“What are you on about? That box belonged to an old mate.”
“So she liked being paddled?” Ailsa grinned but the dragon still wouldn’t rise to the bait.
Ailsa turned her attention to the paintings, tapestries and busts that decorated Varcorak’s walls above his treasure. Most of them depicted other dragons. There was a blue one with a short muzzle, a green with a tapered snout, and a full portrait one of a black dragon with fiery red wing patterns.
“Who are these dragons?” Ailsa smirked. “Your conquests?”
“Not conquests.” Varcorak licked droplets of red wine from his muzzle. The dragon’s voice softened and he glanced away. “Memories. They were dear to me.”
That sounded a lot deeper than trophies. Did dragons…did things get deeper for them? That moment of loneliness, the coldness she’d seen in his eyes earlier that day drifted back to her.
Have you seen any female dragons around here, lately? Because I sure as hell haven’t.
Ailsa clapped a hand to her mouth, her breath caught. She watched Varcorak, wondering if his lovers were all slain by humans. How many had he lost? Ailsa could scarcely imagine the weight of that burden. The dragon turned his head away, his eyes hidden. His spines sagged, and his ears drooped as he stared at his wine.
Ailsa dug her palms into her eyes. Her throat clenched and she swallowed that sympathetic pain right back down. She didn’t have time to feel sorry for some horny old lizard who’d already threatened to kill her. She had to stick to her plan.
“So you had portraits done of the females you cared for?” Ailsa smiled. “That’s sweet.”
Varcorak shifted, tightening his wings against his body. The dragon seemed caught off-guard by his own feelings and needed a moment to collect himself. “And the males.”
“Males?” What else was this dragon into?
“Yes.” Varcorak shook himself, lifting his spines, his pained posture vanished. “The gryphon’s male.”
Ailsa walked the wall till she spotted a tapestry with a gryphon on it. Gray feathers peppered with black, seated on his haunches, and definitely male. “You’re into gryphons? Male gryphons?”
“We’ve been over this.” Varcorak sighed, curling his tail. “Dragons are not beholden to your restrictive sexual morals. Life is a gift to be enjoyed. Does sharing pleasure with a willing partner harm anyone?” The dragon flared his gold-tipped spines, hissing. “Do you fear that because I have pleasured a male gryphon, that somehow your cities will come crumbling down?”
Ailsa had no response. Hell, if she didn’t agree she’d not have been so willing to pleasure the dragon to get his treasure. “It’s just a surprise, that’s all.”
Varcorak snorted, flattening his frills. “Humans. Always complicating things.”
“Just didn’t realize dragons were bisexual.”
“Not all of us are.” Varcorak arched his neck. “But how are we to know what we enjoy without trying it?”
Ailsa rubbed her face, unable to stifle her grin. “I’m sure the gryphon had a wonderful time.”
“You should hear the noises he made when I took him in my muzzle.”
Ailsa giggled, reddening a little. That might be fun to see. Further down the wall Ailsa found a group of portraits that all depicted the same female dragon. She was black, with hints of blue and green marking her. They were set away from the others, with their own section of shelves and trinkets.
“What about this one?” Ailsa smirked at the dragon. “Was she your best lover?”
The dragon’s voice dropped into a growl. “That is my daughter.”
Oh. Ailsa swallowed. She really jumped in the dragon pile that time. “You have a daughter?”
“Yes.” The dragon cocked his head, glaring at her. “Why does everything surprise you? We don’t just assemble each other out of swamp mud and bits of stick!”
Grimacing, Ailsa examined some of the trinkets on the shelves. There were shards of brittle, mottled gray egg shell. Piles of dark scales were arranged from smallest to largest. A broken claw lay on its own. There were wooden carvings of dragons. Had his daughter carved those, or were they toys he’d given her?
So, King Ugly of Shit Swamp wasn’t just a father, he was a caring father. Ailsa held her breath when guilt’s vice squeezed her heart. This was supposed to be easy. Ailsa grit her teeth. This was easy. She wasn’t hurting his daughter, she wasn’t harming him. She’d just slip away with a little treasure, and he could get another girl.
“What’s her name?” The question spilled from Ailsa’s lips before she could stop it.
“Nykarys.” Happiness and pride brightened Varcorak’s voice. “Named after her mother.”
No way in hell Ailsa could pronounce that. “And she’s…” Ailsa glanced at the dragon. “Alive?”
Varcorak pulled his head back, spines flaring and eyes wide. “Gods, I hope so.”
“I’m glad.” For once, that wasn’t a lie. Even an old bastard needed someone to care about. “So she’s…”
“Off with a mate of her own, somewhere safe and far away.” The dragon padded up alongside her, gazing at the portraits. “There aren’t many of us left. Not here, anyway. I’m glad she’s found someone.”
“Is not a topic of discussion.” Varcorak’s voice tightened, his claws clicked against the stone floor as he unsheathed them. That was answer enough.
“I’m sorry.” Ailsa put a hand on the dragon’s foreleg. The beast swallowed and looked away.
“You need not apologize for old sorrows.” The dragon shook himself, scales clicking.
Ailsa stroked his foreleg scutes. She almost wished she could hug the scaly bastard. Almost. “Ny…Nik…Nie…Your daughter is beautiful.”
The dragon rumbled as a smile tugged at his muzzle. “Yes, she is.” A rare warmth glowed in his bronze eyes. “Do you have young?”
“Oh, no.” Ailsa shook her head, rubbing the dragon’s shoulder. “A wandering mercenary isn’t exactly a suitable mother. Maybe when I’m settled down somewhere.”
“Probably for the best.” The dragon traced his pads over some of the eggshell fragments, still smiling.
“Is that why you made your deal with the town?” The dragon’s life was a puzzle Ailsa suddenly couldn’t stop trying to solve. “Because you had a daughter to raise?”
Varcorak flared his frills one spine at a time. The dangerous, uncertain shine returned to his bronze eyes. “You think I offered them the deal?”
Ailsa chewed her lip, examining the dragon’s trinkets to avoid his gaze. “Didn’t you?”
“Perhaps they came to me, requesting my protection.” The dragon curled his tail around a hind leg, smirking. “Or perhaps I gave them an ultimatum. What do you think, Ailsa?”
“I think they made a deal with the devil, and now they’re stuck with it.”
The dragon cocked his head, voice encased in icy amusement. “You think I’m the devil?”
“You might be.” Ailsa gave him a nervous glance. “I can’t figure you out.”
“Best try harder, Girl, time’s running out.” Varcorak tapped his claws against the stone floor.
Ailsa’s stomach knotted. What was he playing at? She forced a smile. “What’s the hurry? I’ve months to figure you out.”
“Do you?” The dragon’s voice was a rising swirl of lilting curiosity and rumbling menace. He flicked his tail, webbed spines clattered on the floor.
“That’s what they told me in town.” Ailsa bent forward and busied herself digging through a box filled with old clay pots. She glanced back at him. “What’s this stuff?”
“Oils and things.” Varcorak stared at Ailsa’s curves.
Ailsa grinned when Varcorak took the bait. Maybe every time he seemed suspicious she’d just have to distract him. “For what?”
“My scales.” The dragon flared out his green-mottled wings, looking them over. “And my wings.”
“Maybe I should give you an oil massage.” Ailsa straightened up, examining one of the vats. “Ever had one?”
The dragon perked his frilled ears. “No, but it sounds pleasant.”
Ailsa turned to put a hand on the smooth, hard plates of the dragon’s chest. “Promise it will end happily.” She trailed her fingers down him.
“Good.” Varcorak smirked, tilting his head down. “Though I may attend your pleasure, first.”
Ailsa shivered. “I’d like that.”
“I know.” The dragon turned away, his tail twisting against her body, brushing her like a teasing serpent with its own desires. “Bring the oil. We shall have wine, and then pleasure.”
Ailsa let out a long breath as she collected a few pots of oil. She’d never figure out this beast and his ever-changing moods. The sooner she was out of here with his treasure the better. Just a little longer, she told herself. Just a little longer.
I hope you enjoyed the sixth episode of The Devil’s Deal by D. Wilder. Stay tuned for more episodes all week. You can catch up on episodes you may have missed and see the full schedule along with contact information for D. Wilder here.