Margueritte immediately got surrounded by the little ones. She saw a runt, no longer than her arm. She spoke to him, soothing words, as her charred fingertips tried to untie her other hand. She dared not ask their help because she knew their razor-sharp teeth were designed to rip chunks off burning carcasses.
At last she got free, and the babies seemed delighted. The runt seemed particularly pleased and friendly. “Wrap.” Margueritte said as she held out her good arm. The Beast immediately curled around her arm from above her elbow down to place its’ head on the back of her hand. It began to purr, after a fashion.
“Fly.” Marguerite said, and the creature unwrapped and took to the air with equal delight. Several of the others began to act like they were jealous, but Margueritte felt a moment of tremendous relief which even temporarily overcame the pain in her fingers, hand and arm. She knew these little ones had to obey. Thousands of years of special breeding insured that, and she knew these still feathered little ones did not even smoke.
“Sing.” She called out, and the little dragons began a harmony of song to make the birds envious. They sang, and then they seemed to want her to go into the cave with them. Margueritte was not about to do that. Instead, she turned toward the path she had come up. The babies followed her.
“No. Stay.” Margueritte insisted, but the runt came up to her face and seemed to have puppy-dog eyes. Poor Margueritte was always a sucker for puppy-dog eyes. She reached out with her good hand to pet the beast. It purred again. “Stay.” She said, sweetly. “Go be with your brothers and sisters.” She pointed to the others that were trying to do as they were told.
Margueritte got to the rise as the runt went sadly back to the others. They were all watching her. “Baby.” One of the dragon babies mouthed the word. “Stay.” Another baby said in imitation of her own word. Margueritte smiled but began to step down the hill before Mother came back. She only got about five steps along, before she saw the men come out from the rocks below. They had evidently prepared well in advance. They had places in the rocks intended to protect them from the worm but from which they could watch the hill. Margueritte knew there would be no escape in that direction.
“Get her!” Margueritte heard that command and fled back up to the waiting and overjoyed babies. A quick survey suggested she had no other way down, at least no easy way which would not require a significant climb over cliffs of rock face.
“Home. Inside. Hide!” Margueritte commanded the babies, and they followed and lead the way into the dragon’s lair. She stopped far enough into the dark to be hidden, but near enough to still see the light and hear the approach of the men. She imagined it cost Finnian McVey a small fortune to entice men to stay so close to a dragon’s lair.
“She’s gone into the cave,” one man said. “Nowhere else for her to hide.”
“Check around the rocks. Vagi, check over the cave entrance.”
“I’m not going in there,” one man balked.
“But the dragon’s gone,” the first man said. “We saw it take to the air.”
Margueritte became suddenly aware of the babies around her. The runt, rested on her shoulder, its head beside her head, looking with her. Another had wrapped around her left leg and she petted it as well as she could with her hurting hand, just to keep it quiet. A third brushed against her good arm as if to say it wanted some of that petting action as well. The others had settled near her feet, resting from flight, three curled in little balls, like rattlesnakes ready to strike. She had to protect them. She already felt attached, especially to the runt, and she would kill these men, somehow, if they so much as harmed a feather.
“But it might come back,” the man protested. “We don’t know where it has gone.”
“Go on, I tell you. The beast has left.”
Marguerite heard the grousing, but also careful steps into the cave. “No,” she cried out. “Follow.” She commanded the babies, even while she knew that the men in the entrance would hear. The babies obeyed, and she ran into the dark and stumbled only once before she felt far enough in. She looked back. She saw what looked for a moment like torch light, and then she heard men yelling and screaming. Mother must have returned, she surmised.
Three babies almost went for the entrance, but Margueritte shouted. “Stay. Wait.” They waited, but impatiently. And when Margueritte could no longer hear the roars, she said “Go.”
Eight babies darted for the entrance. Margueritte and her runt followed at a more leisurely pace, and Margueritte only hoped the runt would keep Mother from having her for dessert.
When they got to the cave entrance, the runt started pulling on her arm with anticipation. The smell of cooked horse was overwhelming, along with burnt something else which Margueritte did not want to think about.
“Babies. Eat.” The mother dragon surprised Margueritte, stuck its’ snout behind her back to fling her and the runt at the horse. Margueritte might have been seriously injured if she had not been armored head to toe. As it was, she almost landed on one of the babies, and that would have been worse. The baby stuck its head up and looked at her.
“Eat.” It echoed Mother’s word before it burrowed into the horse’s innards. Margueritte felt for a moment as if she was going to be sick, but then her runt stuck its head up and repeated the word.
With a glance at the mother dragon, Margueritte pulled a small blade from her boot. She stuck her nose against the horse, bad as it smelled, and cut herself a piece off the least disturbed place. She slipped the knife home, hopefully unnoticed, picked up the chunk of horse flesh and examined it. “At least it’s cooked,” she spoke to herself for the first time in her native tongue. It had been a long time since her last crust of stale bread. She ate, and added to herself, “At least I won’t starve.”
After supper, Mother dragon had another word. “Sleep,” she said. The sun started to set, and Mother guarded the babies as they ate, and now let them go in first. Margueritte was very reluctant to go, but one of the babies echoed, “Sleep,” and coiled around her wrist guard and began to pull. Two others got the idea. One grabbed her other wrist, and another wrapped around her waist. Again, there is no doubt Margueritte would have been injured if she was not dressed in chain mail, forged in the fires of Mount Etna by Hephaestus himself.
Mother dragon leaned down to nudge them along, but this time it was a gentle nudge. “Babies sleep.” The words followed. They went into the dark, and Margueritte wished she had some light to see. A thought crossed her mind, though she was at a loss as to which temporal connection put it there. She remembered the electrical something-or-other she had exhibited when she put the hag out of commission. She tried to make a spark. It came, as she hoped, from her eyes, but it was pitiful. It shone for a moment off a thousand points right where the cave opened-up into the tomb area. Margueritte gulped, as a great burst of flame blew over her head, nearly singing her hair. Mother came right behind them. And then mother touched her back with her snout and purred like an infant, as if this Margueritte baby was showing the first sparks of growing up.
Margueritte, fortunately grasped the layout of the tomb. She saw the babies curled up on a great pile of gold, coins and jewels. “Nesting material,” Marguerite said to herself, and she understood something in that moment which she had always wondered. She found her way to the pile and curled up in the middle of the babies. She planned to be surrounded by them at every chance she got, in case Mother had a change of heart. And while she thought she would never really be able to sleep in a dragon’s lair, in fact the gentle sounds of the sleeping babies turned out to be a perfect lullaby. It was the last sound the Agdaline heard as they drifted off to sleep for a hundred or a thousand years in their sleepers while their ship inched through the endless void among the stars.