Claudette lugged the carcass of her kill into the oasis just as the sky was beginning to lighten. After she located the herd, it had taken several hours to stalk, kill, clean, and carry her prize back to the tree. The moon had set as she was cleaning the young buck, and the walk back in the dark had been treacherous. She probably should have waited where she was until there was more light, but she was impatient to finally get some fresh meat to eat.
As she stalked the deer, she had found a large pit in the ground. It probably belonged to the dragon. When her mate was still alive, the dragoness would have dug the pit and then her winged mate would have driven the herd of deer towards it, trying to frighten them into it. Then the dragoness could snack on them when she was hungry, if her mate was off with his partner. As she began to hack the deer apart, Claudette wondered how much of the story they had been told about this dragoness was true. She had eaten Maudeon, so the signs pointed to it being mostly accurate. Villagers were sometimes careless about which dragons they sent the hunters after, in their frightened concern for their herds and homes.
Rumor had it that this dragoness had never been partnered, but her mate had. When she was ready to brood, she had attacked her mate’s human partner, killing him. Her mate had tried to defend him, and continued attacking her even after the human was dead. She had slain the mate, then gone on a rampage through the nearest village, destroying several buildings. The locals had fled, of course, and reported that she threatened death to any humans coming near her territory again. A dragon’s claimed territory was vaguely dependent on where they wanted to go, so the threat could be loosely translated as anyone she ever met. After a few hunters and shepherds had disappeared from the area, the dragoness was labeled a man-killer, and the advertisement went up for her destruction. Probably the human partner’s family would have come around sooner or later to see why he didn’t report back to them. The Sayfine dragontenders prided themselves on dealing with rogue dragons internally, and looked down on itinerants like Claudette’s family.
Meanwhile, however, Claudette was going to give it a try. If the Sayfine dragontenders showed up too late, it was too bad for them. She built up a large fire with pieces of dry brush, placing several flat rocks in the midst of it. A large pot came out of her pack and sat on three of the rocks. She put water from the oasis into it with some herbs, throwing in meat and bones as they were carved off. She hacked a branch off the sycamore, stuck it in the ground, and strung a cord from it back to the tree. She sliced strips of meat off the ribs of the carcass and hung them over the cord where the sun would beat down on them. A few pieces were reserved for roasting and placed carefully on the remaining hot rocks in the fireplace. The meat sizzled tantalizingly.
When she was done, Claudette took the skin and feet a ways out of the oasis and buried them in loose sand, scrubbing her hands with sand afterwards. The sun was beginning to warm the area as she ate her freshly roasted steak. The juices ran stickily down her chin, and she savored the rich taste. After she finished, Claudette gathered up as much brush as she could carry to make a stockpile for the fire. The soup began to bubble, and she let herself collapse in an exhausted heap next to the fire. The warmth was still pleasant, but she couldn’t allow herself to sleep yet. The dragoness had promised to return this morning, and being caught off guard might be literally fatal.