Austere had left during the night and made her way back to her hunting den. The den was built over another small stream which flowed into the far side of the lake. The entry was from underwater, but the den itself sat on fallen logs and brush she gathered to make a floor. Overhead the carefully interwoven branches were strong and covered with a deep layer of insulating snow, which kept the den warm with merely her own body heat.
The clan had many of these dens scattered throughout their territory. These were used to stash their catches and kills until they had enough to make the trip back to the ice lair worthwhile. Austere’s clan was matriarchal. Her mother’s litter mate was in charge and ruled with a council of her female peers including Austere’s mother. The un-mated females and the males were the hunters for the clan. They often spent days or weeks away from the main lair. It was solitary work. That was the reason running into Zodic had been such a thrill.
She thought about spending the whole night with him. She even briefly thought about hunting with him in the morning, but then she thought better of that particular day dream. He was a Furry. Their clan was known to be unfriendly and sometimes downright hostile. But… Austere had seen nothing of that in Zodic. He was polite and gentle. He did not seem to be the big, bad Furry her fellow clan members had always warned her about. He seemed almost timid and very sweet.
She shook her head. What was she thinking? She smiled to herself… she was thinking about the feel of his fur and the way he smelled of cinder and ash, like a comfortable warm fire on a cold winter night.
It had been over a week since Austere met Zodic. She sat in the hunting den packing the fish she caught into the baskets her clan traded for with the humans far below the tree line. Four baskets were hooked to a wooden carrier which sat up off the floor far enough for her to crawl under. Once the baskets were loaded and covered, she would slid beneath the structure and fasten the belt across her chest to secure it during flight. It was really an ingenious contraption which the humans devised to help their dragon friends up north. The humans traded for the tallo root the dragons dug. They used it for medicinal purposes and it was of no use to the dragons. The root grew in the depths of the humanly inaccessible, higher regions of the river Zodic had fallen in.
Zodic… He constantly came back to her mind again and again. Austere finished covering the baskets and slid in under the harness. She needed to get back home. She needed something to distract her from her thoughts of the Furry. The two clans did not mix, didn’t even talk. There was no future thinking along those lines. She would get home and there would be the young pups to entertain and the council to report to. What would she tell them? Would she tell them about her encounter with Zodic? Would she confess that she thought him attractive, kind, gentle, even funny?
She shrugged her wings out from between the harness’ structure and then fastened the leather strap across her chest. She didn’t want to think about him. Thoughts along those lines led her only to more questions, or worse yet, dead ends.
Austere lay with her head on her mother’s stomach. Uland stroked her youngling's head and softly churred. This young female was her last pup. She was too old to conceive another. Austere’s brothers and sisters that came before her had all left the nesting pelts and had families of their own, or would have soon. Austere held a special place in her mother’s heart. After Uland’s mate died last year the youngling and she had become even closer. Most her age would have built their own nesting bed in preparation of mating, but Austere remained knowing her mother would be lonely without anyone to help warm her furs.
“Have you ever met a Furry?” Austere asked.
“When I was young,” her mother replied. “Before the Dragonic Wars our two clans often set down to a meal together. Some of the males hunted together when winters were tough like this year.”
This winter had started out earlier than most. The clan was surprised by the abnormally deep snowfall. They were caught short of their usual quantity of food stores put up for the long winter months. It was not often that the dragons misjudged nature.
Austere changed positions and snuggled up close to her mother’s side with her head up between her mother’s paws. Her mother rolled and wrapped her body lovingly against her daughter’s back.
“The Furries you met…were they nice?” Austere asked.
“They were,” her mother answered, as she brought around a large webbed paw to hug her daughter to her side. “What is the interest in Furries all of a sudden?” Her mother countered.
Austere hesitated for only a moment. Her mother was old, and wise, and she knew she could talk to her.
“I met one while I was out on the hunt,” she said softly. “His name was Zodic.”
Austere’s mother rolled her over so they were face to face.
“Tell me,” she said with interest.
“He was fishing. I inadvertently pulled him in the river just above the falls into the lake.”
Her mother took in a sharp breath, her ears laid flat against her head and she squinted her eyes. “Oh, no.”
“They really are heavy when they’re wet,” Austere giggled.
“I can imagine,” her mother snickered under her breath. “I take it, if you learned his name you managed to get him out alive.”
“I did and we spent some time getting him dry.” Austere’s eyes fell from her mother’s as she thought of the soft fur beneath her paw pads and the smell of his coat. “We talked long into the night.”
“Talked?” Her mother asked.
“Yes, just talked. He told me about his home and family. His father is the clan patriarch.”
“Tallideer,” Uland supplied.
“Yes,” Austere gazed into her mother’s deep blue eyes. “You know him?”
“Yes, dear,” she answered. “Everyone knows Tallideer. He was a very brave battle dragon during the war. He helped secure these mountains for our two clans. He inherited the ruling of the Furry clan after his father died. That was all long before you were born.”
Her mother stroked the side of her face and said, “Tell me what else you two talked about.”
“He told me about his clan, his father - who he wishes to please - but can’t seem to, and his best friend Trenic. They were pups together and Trenic’s father taught him how to hunt and fish.”
“He must not have warned him about cold water and wet Furries,” her mother chided.
“No, his own father warns them about that each year. He thought he was safe up above and he would have been if it hadn’t been for me,” Austere confessed. “We both latched onto the same fish as the same time, me from below and him from above.”
“That must have been a sight,” her mother chuckled.
“It was.” Austere dropped her head and nudged it against her mother’s chest. Why did she feel shy all of a sudden? She hadn’t done anything wrong. There were no rules against talking to a Furry or helping a Furry or loving a Furry…at least she didn’t think so.
“He was so soft,” Austere began. She took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, “and so warm.”
Uland reached down and grasp her daughter’s chin to raise her eyes up to hers.
“You found him attractive?” her mother asked.
“Very,” Austere confessed. “He didn’t try…anything,” she assured her mother. “He was very polite, but he felt it. I could feel it. He was attracted to me too.”
Uland nuzzled her youngest. She knew the attraction to a Furry. She had felt it herself when she was young. But nothing could be made of such a union in this time. Tallideer held his clan to strict rules and the major one of those was the Furries were to stick together and not mingle with other clan members.
“You know their ways,” Uland advised her daughter. “You have all been brought up knowing we live close to a clan that does not wish to be disturbed. We abide by that wish, for all of our safety.”
“But what if one of them didn’t want to be isolated,” Austere asked. “What if one wanted to be friends, maybe even a mate to one of us. We could…couldn’t we?”
“Oh my, dear,” Uland sighed and cuddled her youngling close, wrapping a wing protectively across her body. “It can’t be. Tallideer would never allow it - especially not his own. Never his own,” she said with finality.