As the rain turned to small pellets of ice, Rhaynah could hear her father’s voice in her head as clearly as though he were standing beside her. “Don’t go out there, tadpole, the weather’s going to turn murderous.” But she had scoffed at him, stating she knew better – even though she never knew better – and gone anyway. And now, what had that gotten her? Clinging to a rocky ledge with her fingers and toes half frozen to the rock. He would be crowing the ‘I told you so’s by the time she returned home, soaked to the bone.
But, it would be worth it. It would have to be.
Rhaynah had wanted to be a dragon herder for as long as she could remember, but every year she did not receive the call. One could not just choose to be a dragon herder – well, they could try if they had dumb luck and just happened to stumble upon a dragon nest – they had to be called by the dragon mother herself. And even then, she did not call to just one person, as she had no idea of their location, their well being or ability to travel, or if they could even take on more dragons. Calling multiple herders meant that some herders, especially those starting out, took unnecessary risks.
A position in which Rhaynah currently found herself in. It was the first season she had heard the call, and it was clear, vibrant, and ringing in her ears. The nest must be close. So even though her father had warned her of the perils of leaving in such weather, she had ignored him. She felt as though the very fiber of her career depended on it. There was nothing worse than being known to desiring to be a dragon herder, but still being without a herd.
Cresting the next ridge of rock, the dragon song rang ever clearer for Rhaynah. Across the shallowly slopped plain of rock, she could make out a dark opening through the rain and sleet in the rock beyond. Gentle clouds of steam drifted out of the opening and Rhaynah knew she had found the place.
Rhaynah hurried forward to the opening, looking forward to some warmth and relief from the rain and sleet. Inside, the light was dim, save for a pale glow coming from a back corner. As Rhaynah’s eyes adjust to the lack of light, she could make out the shape of the nest. It was large, with bones and large tree trunks and branches creating a deep recess for the dragon eggs to reside in. She could see tufts of pelts of some kind sticking out above the glow of the eggs.
On a crest of rock, above the nest, sat a mass of scales. She glowed in the light of her eggs below. Her golden scales glimmered in the dimness. A thrumming, similar to a cat, came from her direction. She was coiled up, so Rhaynah could not make out her greatness, but she could tell she was of substantial size. She also could not make out the creature’s face, but Rhaynah knew the female dragon was regarding her. Studying her.
Rhaynah bowed low to the female dragon, remembering her studies of the proper etiquette to show a dragon. Especially one of which you hoped to care for their eggs. Dragons and humans lived in harmony, each provided a service to the other. Humans gathered the eggs that were ready to hatch and became too delicate for the adult dragons to safely warm. They also reared the infants, again as they were too small to be around the adults, until they were of a substantial enough size to join their prides. In return, the dragon prides of the land provided the villages and towns dotted about the land with protection and resources. Their scales had many medicinal properties, as well as aiding in the strength of armor. And dragon’s milk was a high-valued item. Some of the smaller dragons would often remain with their herders for life, providing further services to their herder’s village. Rhaynah’s own village had a smith that was powered by a dragon the size of a donkey, named Silmaryk.
The dragon on the ledge warbled to Rhaynah, informing her she may approach. She made sure to move forward slowly, steadily, and respectfully. As she knelt along the rim of the nest once climbing up, Rhaynah sat back and admired the clutch of eggs. There were six in total, a larger than normal clutch. The golden dragon lowered her long neck, bringing her elegant head with its curving horns on the level with Rhaynah’s. The dragon’s eye was nearly the size of Rhaynah’s own head, and a brilliant emerald green with golden flecks. The dragon blinked slowly, regarding her carefully. Finally, the beast nodded.
Suddenly, the golden dragon’s head shot up, the crest on the back of her skull rearing up. Her warble, turned into a shriek as she unfurled and quickly crawled down the rocky outcropping of her perch. The shrieking continued as the giant creature – Rhaynah could truly see the dragon’s size as the beast was outlined against the cave opening and the light – raced across the cavern.
Rhaynah peered past the dragon, looking to see what had spooked her. She heard shouts and boots clattering against rock; other herders. The dragon was chasing off other herders that had answered her call. She was undeniably choosing Rhaynah as the caregiver of her eggs.
Once the shouts diminished, shrinking away on the wind, the golden dragon turned to lumber back to her perch. She climbed back up to her ledge effortlessly, and gave Rhaynah a small nod. Nodding back to the dragon, Rhaynah bent forward to begin collecting the eggs.
Rhaynah looked up in surprise. She stared at the golden dragon. “You are Thilluin?” she asked in awe. She could hardly believe it. Thilluin was one of the greatest dragons of their time, one who had many legends created in her honor. She had not been seen in more than a generation.
Thilluin bobbed her great head in a nod, before nudging Rhaynah’s arm with the tip of her snout, granting her permission once again for Rhaynah to take her eggs.
Inktober 2022, Prompt #9: NEST