Paell picked his way along the wall of the cave. The floor formed of gravel and debris was treacherous in the gloom. He had not seen the sun for days, the only light filtering indirectly through the entrance, a tunnel that was neither straight, nor reachable. Besides a faint echo of light, anything that entered either flew or fell. What Paell was after was something that fell. He had discovered a thin trickle of rainwater, and salvaged a dinged but sound tin pot from the debris. If he had done it right, water should have accumulated while he had been sleeping.
The rustling of leathery wings the size of sails made him freeze, even holding his breath. The dragon veered straight towards him regardless, gravel crunching under its feet, here and there a bigger stone or something worked of metal cracking or snapping.
It made a low murring sound, deep enough to make Paell's breastbone vibrate in resonance.
"Yes, I'm awake," he babbled, "and not going far. It's not like I could get out of here."
The dragon prodded him with its nose, throwing him forward and against the wall. Its hot, dry breath washed over him; it exhaled prior to starting to sniff him.
"Look, if you want to fatten me up, you're going about it the wrong way. I'll just grow less of a treat, believe me." The dumb animal didn't understand a word. And if it did, would encouraging it to eat him now be wise?
It took another step, and the huge head turned. A faint highlight danced across the smooth surface of the dragon's eye, embedded in a face or rough scale and wrinkly skin, just an arm's length in front of Paell.
"What do you want?"
The dragon did not react; it only continued to stare at Paell. It unnerved him to look back, but he could not look away. The dragon did not blink at all; there was only an occasional twitch in its lower eyelid. Was he making it angry? Was he imagining that the dragon came closer, very, very slowly?
Paell tried to increase the distance between them, but only had the rock of the cave wall dig into his back. The dragon moved its head closer, not far, but perceptibly, and gave a more quiet version of its murr. Paell raised his hands, reflexively bracing them against the dragon's cheek, but the dragon lowered its head a little, bringing Paell's hands to the skin of its lower eyelid, rather than the scales he had aimed for.
Dragonhide was thick and tough, Paell had learned when he had tried to cut the dragon's throat while it was sleeping, but at least here it was not hot enough to burn. Feeling utterly crazy, he rubbed and scratched the skin, side to side, following its folds. The dragon half-closed its eye, bulling the lower lid up but not moving the upper lid at all. Something came off when Paell continued scratching. The dragon did not seem to mind. Loose skin flakes that had been itching? If I ever get out of here again, no-one will believe me, Paell thought, continuing until the dragon gave a strangely melodious snort that he giddily decided had to be a contented sigh.
The dragon prodded him again with its nose. With the cave wall right at Paell's back, it turned into a blow that pushed the air from his lungs. While he caught his breath, the dragon climbed out of the cave, using foothold several manslengths apart. Paell watched the shadowy form move against the grey background of the entrance, and wondered if that big lug would even noticed if he held on to its tail, and if he would have the nerve for trying.