With head high, Claire approached the cave. The stench of the dragon wafted out to her and her eyes turned for one last look at her village tucked in the valley far below. Like a deserted ruin, it stood burnt and devastated. The dragon had taken her family. The young men of the village had perished one by one, their spears broken against its impenetrable scales, their bodies feeding its belly. The rest of the villagers hid in fright, knowing it would return for them.
She squared her shoulders and chewed her last handful of frothos berries. The berries would give her an edge the others lacked. Her belly full, she entered the cave, taking small steps until her eyes compensated for the darkness. The smell forced her to press a hand against her nose.
Even knowing the outcome, her hands shook and sweat ran down her sides in a clammy rain. Two steps turned to ten and then twenty. Her white dress clung to her legs as she trailed down the tunnel, counting. Once she’d hoped the dress could be a bridal gown. She mustn’t let down her family. Her own audacity made her tremble.
The cave opened out before her and she heard the raspy breathing. A scratching sound and the giant head reared high, contemplating her presence with huge green-slotted eyes. Scales scraped against rock as the beast levered itself to its feet, accepting its own ponderous weight. Great bat wings lay tucked against its humped back. It made no move toward her.
“Do you see your doom in me?” Claire whispered in wonder. She held out her empty hands, willing the shaking to stop. Carefully, she took two steps closer. “Go on,” she cried. “Do what you do!”
She approached until she stood directly under the beast, making no hostile move. Overhead, she could see the dragon’s fangs, its row upon row of razor teeth. The same teeth had feasted upon her father and mother, making a sport of hunting them as they ran in terror. Should not revenge feel sweet? Facing the great beast, she discovered no savor of triumph.
The frothos berries caused her stomach to cramp. Soon now. Even the smallest child knew to avoid them. With their red color and pleasant scent, they attracted the hungry, but a handful could poison a full grown cow. The amount in her stomach could do much more damage.
It hovered over her hypnotically. She noted the size of the dragon’s mouth insured it could finish her slight body in one bite. Slowly her fingers curled, the pain would be as nothing to the glory of saving her village. With a scream to attract the beast, she turned and ran. The white dress made a tempting target. Crashing footsteps lumbered behind her and the ground shook.
At the tunnel entrance, the beast struck. Claire made no attempt to evade. Her eyes drew one last look at her home. Saved.