Claudette bit her tongue nearly through as the dragon’s jaws closed completely over Maudeon, the front teeth scraping the sand beneath her boots. As the giant head swung up and back to better slide her prey down her gullet, Claudette stood up and shrieked as shrilly as she could. The cry came out high but throaty, as blood from her tongue ran back in her mouth. The dragoness, startled, swallowed and turned stare in Claudette’s direction. She had not been able to smell Claudette over the strong scent of Maudeon.
“Oh, oh, oh,” Claudette sobbed, “You have eaten my mother!”
“Bah!” The dragon lashed her tail. “Why is this place suddenly infested with humans?”
“My mother,” Claudette cried, throwing herself on her face on the sand. “You have eaten my mother!”
The huge head lowered back to the water, ignoring her. Claudette cried and rolled on the beach. “I am an orphan! Where will I go?” She sobbed and cried as loudly as possible, until finally the dragoness hissed at her.
Claudette let her moans diminish into whimpers.
“So you are an orphan, the whole desert does not need to know. If you tire of life, merely remain here another night. I am not hungry now, but I will find you tomorrow morning.” The dragoness stretched her wingless shoulders and walked away from the pond, into the night air, her tail twitching behind her in the sand.
So the first steps were taken. Claudette wiped her eyes of the real tears she had been shedding, and shimmied back up the tree, taking up everything her mother had left behind. She made sure the packs were secure, and then armed herself with a bow & arrow, knife, and several rabbit-sized traps. She bound leather chaps around her legs to protect them from unseen brambles and rocks and put her archer’s gloves on to keep her fingers safe.
The sounds of the dragoness died away in the distance. Hopefully she would head for her hoard, and not out for another snack. The slime on Maudeon’s cape should dull her appetite for the next couple of days, and give Claudette a chance to scout around for game without being hunted herself. This dragoness would not tolerate anyone else near her hoard except her mate; and he was dead.
Dropping lightly from the tree, Claudette took careful notice of the stars and moon, remembering the night navigation lessons her mother had given her on the way out. More of a review, really, since Claudette had always paid attention to the sky. It was a life skill in her family. She set several traps around the foot of the tree, in the bushes, and at points around the pond where animals were likely to head for drinking. They were simple cord and branch traps, not big enough to hold much more than a small rodent. She tried to disturb the ground as little as possible. She might not have much luck right here in her own backyard, but it was worth a try.
The small, goatish desert deer of Kunnaria had left little cloven hoofprints at the pond within the last day or so. They would not stay the night in the oasis for fear of predators, but they would be grazing on the wiry bushes and lichens out among the boulders and sand. Claudette nocked an arrow loosely into her bow, and stepped out in a likely direction. If she caught something, she could have an actual cooked meal for the first time in weeks.
Claudette put her mother firmly out of her mind. She had a job to do now, and no room for mistakes.