“Well, you’re not the sort of beast I expected to ensnare.”

The web of force that had stopped Alderian in mid-air, nearly doing a harm to his wings, wasn’t so tight that he couldn’t turn his head to see the one who’d spoken. Human, of course, with a thin queue of brown hair, green eyes, and wrapped in gold-brown cloth. Male, if he reckoned correctly. “Yes, yes, have your laugh, two-legger,” he sighed. “You call my kind greedy and hoarding, yet with so large a flock for so few houses, you spend such force to keep from losing one small sheep.” And not so well that he hadn’t struck the thing before the snare tightened; the smell of the carcass so close by had been maddening on an empty stomach.

“One sheep now and then is a regrettable reality we could deal with,” the human replied. “One each day for a week, and we’ll acquire some more and take suitable precautions with them.”

“Then you’ll have to look elsewhere for the author of your troubles,” Alderian growled. “I’ve not been here before now, and would as soon have passed this place by entirely.”

“The rest did seem more like a gryphon’s work, so I suppose I can believe that. Still, you did bring down one of our flock.”

“And what do you want for that?” the dragon snapped. Not for the first time, he tested his bonds, but his magic was bound as tight as his body, and thus so was his fire. “Precious gems? Do I look to you like I bear with me a jewelled hoard?”

“No, you look over-travelled and underfed. Seeking a home, are you?”

“I fail to see how that’s any business of yours,” Alderian snapped, stung.

“If you might settle near my home, that makes it very much my business,” the human replied. Before the dragon could respond, he went on, “I could make it worth your while to do so.”

Alderian blinked, doing a quick recalculation. “First you humiliate me for the sake of one small sheep in passing, now you suggest I linger? You are a puzzling, inconstant creature.”

“There are things you could do that would make up for the costs of an expanded herd,” the human said. “And things you could offer, even here and now, to make up for the damage already done, many times over.”

Oh, there it was. “You want a part of me, do you? Scale, horn, blood? I might have known.”

“It needn’t be something so unpleasant to obtain,” came the reply. “There’s something a drake like yourself can give that would be quite useful to me, and probably quite pleasant to you in the giving.”

Again Alderian blinked, processing that, and when he’d followed the thought to its conclusion, he laughed. “So you will pleasure me, and pay me in food for the privilege?”

“For the proceeds,” the human corrected. “But if you don’t care what happens to your seed afterwards… basically, yes.”

“I care little enough, little one. But do you know your way around such as me?”

“I know my way around males,” the sorcerer said, showing teeth.

At his gesture, the web of force loosened – if not the magical restraints behind it – and instead a lighter wave of it washed over him, a light caress, but one that ignored his scales entirely. He shivered as that phantom touch lingered between his hindlegs. “I might yet come to believe you, human.”

“The name is Edric.” That grin widened. “And I’ve scarcely begun.”