After what seemed an age of flying, when Tegain's hands and feet were numb with cold and the air she drew chilled her lungs, the giant Red came back to earth with a heavy thud. The claw that had been gripping her tightly loosened, and she fell once again, landing this time on what felt like animal fur. It was a far softer landing than before, but any benefit was negated once she sat up and saw where she was.
The dragon had brought her back to its nest.
"Oh great," she moaned. "Baby dragon food..."
There were four chicks in the nest that she could see, almost at fledging age although far smaller than their massive parent; they sat at the other end of the nest, beating their wings and squealing in excitement. Three Reds, their scales the same blood-red shade as their mother's, and one Purple, obviously a runt. It was less than half the size of its Red siblings, its wings were stunted and its deep purple scales had an almost grey tinge. It shrieked shrilly as one of the Reds pushed it aside almost casually. Tegain almost felt sorry for it, but the fact that she was probably going to be a hunting lesson for it spoiled the feeling somewhat.
Quite suddenly, she was knocked forward onto her face by the adult Red, and as she scrambled to her feet she felt its huge muzzle poke her lightly in the back, encouraging her forwards. The chicks' long necks darted forwards, their squeaks growing more and more enthusiastic; one of the Reds opened its jaws, already big enough to swallow Tegain in two bites, and she closed her eyes, waiting for the end. She couldn't think why her extra fingers seemed to make her a candidate for dragon chick food, but apparently it did...
Or not. The overeager Red was flung back in the nest by a swipe of its mother's great head, and a warning growl that rumbled as loud as summer thunder warned the others not to try it. Tegain cracked open an eye and frowned. If she wasn't chick food, then why...?
The adult dragon brought its great head down to Tegain's level and peered at her with its huge eye, bigger than her entire torso. It made an encouraging crooning noise and tried to take her tunic between two of its smaller teeth, which were still too big to get a proper grip. Tegain backed away, and the sound of ripping cloth testified to the ruination of her best red tunic. I knew I shouldn't have worn it to gather berries, she thought ruefully. What will Ma say?...if I ever see her again, that is...
The dragon made a disappointed noise and nudged her forwards again. Completely confused, Tegain could only imagine that the Red was asking her to choose her favourite chick. If so, there was very little contest.
The three baby Reds were bolshy and rude, fighting and snapping at each other, teeth bared, wings rustling, tails lashing. The little Purple, on the other hand, was sitting aside, watching, its head cocked to one side, eyes bright. Hesistantly, Tegain moved towards the chicks; their mother crooned encouragingly again, and the rock shook as she stamped her clawed foot. The Reds hissed and snaked their necks out towards her, hot saliva dripping from their pointed teeth; but their mother let out a slow hiss, and they backed off. Sweating, Tegain managed to keep herself walking until she reached the runty Purple and cautiously put out a hand to touch its neck.